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Friday, 31 January 2020

‘When the Dead Come Calling’ by Helen Sedgwick

Published by Point Blank,
9 January 2020.
ISBN: 978-1-78607-569-7 (HB)

This novel is the first in the Burrowhead Mysteries, an unusual trilogy set in a decaying rural area on the northwest coast of England.  Although DI Georgie Strachan has her fair share of ups and downs, she is a thoughtful, unpretentious person who loves her husband and is not your average damaged detective.

The writer tackles ‘false memory syndrome.’ This is a psychological condition in which the identity or interpersonal relationships of a person centres on a memory of traumatic experiences that is objectively false or distorted but which the person emphatically believes happened.

When psychotherapist Alexis Crosse is found gruesomely murdered in the playground, the local police force, comprising threesome George, Trish and Simon, grieving partner of Alexis, are challenged.  Somehow the police station has managed to survive swingeing budget cuts and closures but it’s in a run down state with out-of-date equipment and limited resources worsened by Simon conflicted out of the investigation.  Embittered and resentful villagers are scarily prejudiced; racism, misogyny   and homophobia rear their ugly heads and Pamila, a woman owner of a local convenience store that is repeatedly vandalised is subjected to an appalling personal assault. 

The story unfolds with a first person narrator hiding in a cave and this sets up the atmospheric scene.  Who is he/she and why is that person there? Is it a real person or a figment of someone’s imagination? Is this happening now or in the past? 

 The author has created an intriguing plot with twists and turns underlaid with the supernatural and her descriptions of the landscape and changing weather, brooding and windswept, bright and sunny is an original metaphor for how the investigation is proceeding. 

This is a stunning, complex, out-of-the mainstream novel that’s completely immersive.  I’m always comfortable with head hopping and constantly changing points of view because I believe this makes the characters come alive with their different reactions and perspectives. I don’t find this technique to be distracting and here the author cleverly deploys it to draw in and grip the reader and, best of all, leaves questions unanswered.
Reviewer: Serena Fairfax

Helen Sedgwick is the author of The Comet Seekers (Harvill Secker, 2016) and The Growing Season (2017). She has an MLitt in Creative Writing from Glasgow University, she won a Scottish Book Trust New Writers Award in 2012, and her writing has been broadcast on BBC Radio 4 and widely published in magazines and anthologies. Before writing her debut novel she was a research physicist, with a PhD in Physics from Edinburgh University.

Serena Fairfax spent her childhood in India, qualified as a lawyer in England and practised in London for many years. She began writing by contributing feature articles to legal periodicals   then turned her hand to fiction. Having published nine novels all, bar one, hardwired with a romantic theme, she has also written short stories and accounts of her explorations off the beaten track that feature on her blog. A tenth, distinctly unromantic, novel is a work in progress. Thrillers, crime and mystery narratives, collecting old masks and singing are a few of her favourite things.

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