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Monday, 2 October 2017

‘Sweet After Death’ by ‘Valentina Giambanco

Published by Quercus,
15 June 2017.
ISBN: 978-1784299637

Ludlow is huddled beneath mountains on the US/Canadian border. It’s a small town, full of small-town politics and people with secrets. And a murder has taken place. The town’s police force is ill-equipped to deal with this unspeakable crime - things like that don't happen in Ludlow. Now they have, so Homicide Detective Alice Madison, Detective Sergeant Kevin Brown and crime scene investigator Amy Sorensen are called in from Seattle to take charge of the investigation. But the weather is closing in, and what is on everybody's mind in Ludlow is that the killer is most likely to be one of them.

Sweet After Death is the fourth book by Valentina Giambanco featuring Alice Madison – and, I have to say, I think it’s her best one yet. The plot is multi-layered, the atmosphere claustrophobic and the sense of place absolutely wonderful - man, did I feel cold reading this.

There is also a great sub-plot that runs alongside the murder investigation and main narrative about a motherless family living on a farm in the mountains. Their father is the only adult the children have ever known. Samuel is one of those children suffering at the hands of their abusive father. When the murder investigation brings the police to the farm, Samuel dares to believe help for him and his siblings could finally be at hand.

The two plots merge and intersect so cleverly.

And the characters are, as always so well realised. Samuel is a sad boy with a terrible life, yet he believes that someone, somewhere will help him, and the reader cannot help but warm to him. The relationship between Madison and Brown is nuanced and so well done, as is the growing bond between Madison and lawyer Nathan Quinn. And during Sweet After Death we learn so much more about what made Madison into the person she is.

Giambanco has a great eye for detail, and her research into forensics and US police procedures is formidable - yet the novel wears its research oh-so-lightly. We feel totally immersed in Ludlow and in the murder investigation and follow it step-by-step. We are in very safe hands.

Sweet After Death is a beautifully written, complex novel with real emotional depth and I urge you to seek it out. It can be read as a standalone, but why leave it there? I definitely recommend her three previous books too.
Reviewer: Mary-Jane Riley

V M Giambanco was born in Italy and moved to London after my Italian A-levels to do a degree in English & Drama at Goldsmiths. She started working in films as an editor’s apprentice in a 35mm cutting room making tea and sharpening pencils. Since then, over almost twenty years, she has been involved in many UK and US pictures, from small independent projects to large studio productions. Her first book was The Gift of Darkness. Valentina lives in South West London.

Mary-Jane Riley wrote her first story on her newly acquired blue Petite typewriter. She was eight. It was about a gang of children who had adventures on mysterious islands, but she soon realised Enid Blyton had cornered that particular market. So she wrote about the Wild West instead. When she grew up she had to earn a living, and became a BBC radio talk show presenter and journalist. She has covered many life-affirming stories, but also some of the darkest events of the past two decades. Then, in true journalistic style, she decided not to let the facts get in the way of a good story and got creative. She wrote for women's magazines and small presses. She formed WriteOutLoud with two writer friends to help charities get their message across using their life stories. Now she is writing psychological suspense, drawing on her experiences in journalism. The Bad Things by Mary-Jane Riley was published by Harper Collins/Killer Reads. Her second book, After She Fell, also published by Killer Reads in April 2016.  To read the review of Killer reads click here

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