Book Review by Steve Matthews of Bookends.
The Puppet Show by M.W.Craven. Constable. £20.
Mike Craven doesn’t spare his readers the significant, horrific details. “Apparently,” Washington Poe is told, “all you need to do is add bits of chopped Styrofoam to petrol until it won’t dissolve any more . . . the result is a white jelly-like substance that will burn so hot it will render down fat.” Under such intense heat, the human body acts as its own fuel.
There had been a third immolation, a third time a living person had been totally destroyed by fire, a third time when a human conflagration had occurred in an ancient stone circle.
And after this third time, newly appointed Detective Inspector Stephanie Flynn, had driven up to Cumbria, to the wilds of Shap Fells, to persuade her old boss, Washington Poe, to return to active service as her assistant.
He didn’t want to. He was reluctant. For eighteen months he’d led a secluded life in an old stone cottage on the fell. All day he lifted stones. He built dry stone walls. The quietness suited him. He’d been suspended from the police. He’d been right, but acted wrongly but the life of the fourteen year old girl had been saved.
The third immolation had taken place at the Long Meg stone circle, “an ancient, tranquil place. Its stones are silent sentinels. Unmoving watchers.”
And they had watched.
They had watched an old man, naked, cadaverously thin, with bowed head and stooped shoulders. He has already been tortured beyond pain. He is about to die.
“Strong wire secures him to an iron girder.” His body is covered in a white jelly-like substance.
“His tormentor holds an American Zippo lighter.”
The rest is predictable. The petrol is lit. The accelerant burns furiously.
Mike Craven paints the details, in sharp, precise strokes as sharp as any knife.
A week later, Tilly Bradshaw in the Special Crime Analysis Section, is working overtime. It was thirteen minutes past midnight. She called D.I. Stephanie Flynn, at home. The matter couldn’t wait. A report had arrived on the last victim. The body, or what remained of it, had been examined with a sophisticated medical investigative technique. The report showed that the body had been deeply cut, so deeply cut, that the marks had survived even that fiercest of immolations.
The marks were not random marks.
It was what those marks signified that caused Tilly Bradshaw to phone D.I. Stephanie Flynn. And those marks caused DI Stephanie Flynn to drive up to Cumbria, and search for Washington Poe in the wilds of Shap Fell.
And those marks caused Washington Poe to tear up his resignation letter.
Those traces of forty-two crude strokes spelled-out two words “Washington Poe”. Alongside them was a messily cut figure five.
The message seemed clear. Washington Poe was to be the fifth victim. The sadistic killer intended to immolate him in one of Cumbria’s ancient stone circles.
But this is no simple case of a particularly vicious and sadistic killer on the loose with an imaginative line in murder and a personal enmity for Washington Poe.
Poe was suspended because he made the right human choice, but the wrong professional one.
As events spiral and further deaths occur and the plot reaches out unexpectedly, Poe finds himself tested to the utmost.
After years in the army and a professional life as a probation officer, Carlisle’s Mike Craven has the inside track on crime. He knows how the criminal mind works and how the law operates. But he also has a novelist’s sense of character and the pace and timing of a great thriller writer. This is a novel which will repel, excite and fascinate to the very last page.