A year has passed since DI James Walker cracked his biggest case yet, and he’s hoping for peace and quiet this festive season.
But across the fells, a local farmer returns home on Christmas Eve to find footsteps in the fresh snow that lead down to his unused basement – and no footsteps leading away. Days later, his body is found, alongside those of his wife and daughter.
Without a neighbour for miles, there are no witnesses and little evidence. And the crime scene has strange echoes of another terrible murder committed at the farmhouse, twenty years earlier…
James knows that to catch this killer, he needs to solve a case that has long since gone cold…
It’s that time between Christmas and New Year when it’s generally very quite as we recover from our Christmas celebrations and await the coming of a New Year. James is not expecting much to be happening and is glad that Christmas went without incident unlike the previous year, which we read about in the first book of this series The Christmas Killer. Unfortunately, he soon finds out that three bodies have been found – Robert and Mary Bateman and their daughter Charlotte – on a farm a few miles outside the village, Kirkby Abbey, where he and his wife live. When he gets to the scene it becomes very clear that there is something not quite right. Is this what it appears to be – a murder suicide – or is there a killer abroad in Kirkby Abbey once more?
James is stationed at Kendal and that is where the investigation HQ is. As the scene is devoid of much evidence it is necessary to get as much information about what happened prior to the killings as possible and evidence is gathered around the movement of Robert Bateman, who has been seen in Kendal on the day of his death, of Charlotte Bateman who lived in Kendal with her boyfriend who is now missing. Mary Bateman who it seems had mental health issues rarely left the farm.
There is a small possibility that Robert Bateman killed his wife and daughter because of the financial problems he was having, made worse with his gambling. James doesn’t think so and the autopsy confirms it. What happened at the farm or, more accurately, who else was there that could have committed such an horrific crime?
Initially focus is on the missing boyfriend – did he kill Charlotte, after a row, and then her parents? It seems possible but a number of other suspects also come to light. As does a very similar crime over two decades ago which also happened at the Bateman’s farm. James realises he needs to find out what happened over two decades ago in order to understand if there could be a connection.
On top of his investigation into this awful crime James is told that his arch enemy is on the run. Wanted by the Met Police for a crime committed on James’ old turf in London. There is a real concern that he’s heading north to reap his revenge on James for getting him put in prison for a previous crime. This is very unsettling not only for James, who left London in order to put distance between him and the threats on his life, but for his wife Annie too. The concern is such that a 24hr watch is put on James’ home to ensure Annie’s safety. There is a very dramatic scene that wraps this element of the story up!
As information and evidence is gathered we follow a very thorough murder investigation. It seems that there had been someone else at the farm watching the family for days or weeks – why were they watching, are they the murderer? There had been a problem regarding a former employee who becomes another possible suspect, as does an ex boyfriend of Charlotte.
As the evidence is gathered and various suspects and witnesses are found and brought in to be interviewed what happened to the Bateman family becomes clear as does what happened to the cold case from two decades ago.
This is a really good story. Whilst it is quite dark there are no overly graphic scenes even when it’s absolutely necessary that some of the events are described. We are getting to know James and his team who, along with Annie, are the core characters in the books. The setting is a favourite of mine – the Lake District, Cumbria – and feels like an old friend although I’m glad to say that being simply a visitor I only ever get to see the beauty of this landscape!
Well plotted, written and with good characterisation this is a terrific book and given that it’s set during the festive season a great read for Christmas.
Publisher: Avon (HarperCollins) 28 Oct. 2021
Buy: Local bookstore| AmazonSmileUK – the eBook price is just 99p!
Alex Pine was born and raised on a council estate in South London and left school at sixteen. Before long, he embarked on a career in journalism, which took him all over the world – many of the stories he covered were crime-related. Among his favourite hobbies are hiking and water-based activities, so he and his family have spent lots of holidays in the Lake District. He now lives with his wife on a marina close to the New Forest on the South Coast – providing him with the best of both worlds!
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