On the Bookshelf...

Puppet Show

MW Craven

A serial killer is burning people alive in the Lake District's prehistoric stone circles. He leaves no clues and the police are helpless. When his name is found carved into the charred remains of the third victim, disgraced detective Washington Poe is brought back from suspension and into an investigation he wants no part of. Reluctantly partnered with the brilliant but socially awkward civilian analyst, Tilly Bradshaw, the mismatched pair uncover a trail that only he is meant to see. The elusive killer has a plan and for some reason Poe is part of it. As the body count rises, Poe discovers he has far more invested in the case than he could have possibly imagined. And in a shocking finale that will shatter everything he's ever believed about himself, Poe will learn that there are things far worse than being burned alive...

MW Craven is a new author for me. The blurb ticked all my boxes though. Stone circles (maybe a bit of archaeology), murders, a touch of the psychopath and a mismatched detective pair. Pu them all together and you have this brilliant book. Damn gave away what I think way to early in the review.

The Puppet Show is set against the mountains and lakes of Cumbria. It’s an area rich in ancient history, from neolithic men who made home in the caves of Langdale to the circles, henges and burial mounds that litter the hillsides. It must have been a very special place for early man. What murders and blood rituals have come before us we may never know, we’re just left with these circles and bumps in the ground.

Fast forward to the present day and someone is using these stone circles for more shenanigans. Three bodies are found burned to death across the county. Washington Poe, a disgraced Detective Inspector with the National Crime Agency (NCA) is suspended and living in the Lake District doing up a croft. He’s called back into service when new information comes to light (no pun intended) that puts his own life in danger.

Washington Poe, is a character of great complexity as you realise as the pages unfold. At first he seems a little brusk, but as you learn more you find the issues he faces in life, his unease with his actions at times.

The other main protagonist is Tilly. She is a delight, a welcome addition to the book. I have to admit I fell in love with her before the book ended. She’s a crime analyst with the NCA and very bright. Two Phd’s and a analytic mind better than any computer. She’s steadfast in her job, a games fanatic who has a special gift, to be able to organise and use data as if they were ingredients in a cake. She’s also socially awkward and an innocent in so many things. I suspect she is autistic although I’m not sure its mentioned (apologies if I missed it). She’ll say things and take things literally. She suffers bullying at the hands of her colleagues who make fun of her. Washington takes her under his wings and brings her to Cumbria to help him solve the mystery. She delights in the little things in life, the lunches out, the gifts, yet is a ray of sunshine in the harsh world. Yep she is one brilliant character.

Solving the mystery is hard though and more bodies turn up that point the whole thing towards a former children’s home. Yes even in this idyllic countryside they’re not spared horrors of the outside world. Poe and Tilly go down one alley after another trying to get the answer top the question, why have they been killed?

So in the end I loved this book. The use of different character styles lifts it above the herd of other books, putting itself on a mountain top of it’s own. It’s up there with the Elly Griffiths books. MW has created a pair of characters whose relationship is complex and feels real. It’d make a marvellous TV series.

I can’t wait for the next book and resuming my relationship with Tilly and Poe.

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Review by
AJ Steel
February 5, 2024

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