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Tuesday 10 May 2022

‘The Burning Question’ by Linda Regan

Published by Headline Accent,
12 May 2022.
ISBN: 978-1-4722-8957-5 (PB)

It was close to midnight when DCI Paul Banham receives a call advising him that a fire in a block of flats not far from where he lives in South London, has resulted in three dead bodies, and that the attending fire officers suspect arson.

Paul immediately assigns DI Alison Grainger as Senior investigating Officer. The fifth in this highly acclaimed series, Alison is now also Paul’s fiancé. 

Central to the story is trainee Detective Constable Hannah Kemp who has now been assigned to the Major Incident Team following her traumatic experience being in a hostage situation, ten months previously. Today is her first day back at work.  Prior to the riots that resulted in Hannah being taken hostage she and Alison had been drawn together as they had both been planning their weddings when the violent incident occurred. Alison Grainger had kept in touch with Hannah during her compassionate leave. Now mindful of her harrowing experience, she pairs her with DS Crowther, a brilliant detective, but one also known as the station ladies’ man. Is this a good idea for the vulnerable DC?

As the team investigate it soon becomes clear that the youngest victim Danielle Low was the most likely target.  Seeking some reason for the attack, they begin to investigate Danielle’s life, also that of Del Harris who lived in the building but was not in residence at the time of the fire.

Then there is a further arson attack, and another young woman is dead. But still the investigating team can find no apparent motive.  What links these two women? Hannah, however, has some knowledge that she thinks might help in the investigation, but it relates to a part of her life she has left behind. Should she, shouldn’t she, will she, won’t she, reveal what she knows? As she is working hard to get her life back on track, can she risk it?  She might lose her job for withholding a possible lead.

I read crime fiction for the mystery; I always want to see if I can work out whodunit, but this one had me foxed. I could not get a handle on the killer, despite the fact that we are privy to the killer’s thoughts, that are violent, merciless and creepy, I could find no clue to their identity, or even a hint of the reason for the ferocious murderous acts.

The story is rich in interesting well fleshed out characters, with their strengths and weaknesses, DS Stephanie Green who is constantly eating, although much of the food seems to land on her person, and DS Colin Crowther, short in statue but lethal to women, also the relationship between Banham and Grainger, which doesn’t appear to be in good shape at the present time. There is a reason for this, but she begins to find his caring claustrophobic. There are several occasions when she says to him, ‘I am the Senior Investigating Officer!’

The harder the team dig the murkier the waters become and despite exhaustive enquiries the identity of the killer eludes them.

Ingeniously plotted and cleverly constructed this is a page turner. Like all good mysteries it kept me guessing to the end, which was a complete surprise. Highly recommended.
Reviewer: Lizzie Sirett

Linda Regan is the author of six police procedural crime novels. She is also an actress. She holds a Masters degree in critical writing and journalism, and writes a regular column, including book reviews, for three magazines. She also presents the book-club spot on BBC Radio Kent. She is an avid reader and welcomes the chance to read new writers.

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