In Bitter Chill by Sarah Ward

Right from the beginning of this book, a short chilling prologue, I was intrigued and found it was a story I did not want to put down. In 1978 Rachel and her friend Sophie were abducted on their way to school. Rachel returned but there was no sign of Sophie and Rachel could not remember what had happened. Thirty years on, Sophie’s mother is found dead in a hotel room, having committed suicide. Shortly afterwards another death prompts the police to begin looking into the Sophie’s disappearance again as they believe the deaths may be connected.

I thought this book was a compelling read with a more than a few twists. It  moves at a steady pace as the police slowly begin to work to solve the mystery of what has happened to Sophie and the connections between 1978 and now. The cold was almost an ever-present character in itself, whether the bitterly cold winter weather of Derbyshire or the chilling feeling as you read. The present day story was nicely balanced by a few chapters from 1978 from the young Rachel’s viewpoint. I thought Rachel was a strong character. I was really interested in how what had happened to her all these years ago was still affecting her life today, and indeed the lives of others. I often wonder how families carry on after a tragedy, particularly one where there are no answers to what has happened to a loved one. I think Sarah Ward has shown just how long-lasting the effects can be on an individual and how a whole community can be touched in some way by shocking events. I was particularly intrigued with Rachel’s work as a genealogist, something I am interested in too. It seemed she had a most unusual family set-up with few male figures around through the generations. In fact, when she compiles her own family tree, she only includes the women. This certainly caught my attention as I wondered how it connected with the plot – something that becomes clear later.

The police characters were very convincing too and I believe a second book featuring the characters is due out next year. I liked the way they worked quietly, almost in the background, as the story unfolded. I particularly liked Detective Constable Connie Childs who worked doggedly to try to uncover the evidence even though it seemed an impossible task. I enjoyed that the police approach seemed very methodical – no maverick police officers off doing their own thing, just hard work, perseverance and a determination to solve the crime. The team of Sadler, Childs and Palmer were a good mix and each brought their own strengths to the case.

In Bitter Chill is well plotted, perfectly paced, has well-developed characters and a strong storyline. Sarah Ward obviously has a knack for building up a sense of tension and unease and has written a really compelling mystery. It’s a great début novel and I’m really looking forward to reading more from this author.

My thanks to the author and publishers Faber & Faber for giving me a copy of this book to review. In Bitter Chill was published on in paperback on November 5th and you can order a copy here: In Bitter Chill

What the book’s about

Bampton, Derbyshire, January 1978. Two girls go missing: Rachel Jones returns, Sophie Jenkins is never found. Thirty years later: Sophie Jenkins’s mother commits suicide. Rachel Jones has tried to put the past behind her and move on with her life. But news of the suicide re-opens old wounds and Rachel realises that the only way she can have a future is to finally discover what really happened all those years ago. This is a story about loss and family secrets, and how often the very darkest secrets are those that are closest to you.

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