when the dead cry out


Hilary Bonner

William Heinemann, £9.99 tbpk Rel May 2003

Reviewed by Mary Andrea Clarke

Detective Superintendent Karen Meadows and her team are galvanized into action by the discovery of a partial skeleton, transforming a twenty eight year old missing persons inquiry into a murder investigation. The disappearance, in 1975, of Clara Marshall and her two young daughters, Lorraine and Janine, has frustrated the whole of the Devon and Cornwall Constabulary and everyone remotely associated with the case. Everyone is convinced Clara's husband Richard killed his wife and daughters. However, he has resolutely kept to his story that she left him for another man. Until the skeleton is found, there has been no evidence to pursue the case.

Hilary Bonner does a good job of depicting the atmosphere and depth of emotions triggered by the case, from the detectives involved to local reporter John Kelly and Clara's father, Sean Macdonald. The reader becomes as irritated as everyone else at Richard Marshall's cool, smug behaviour under interrogation.

While there were one or two unexpected twists to the plot, other areas were more easily predicted. One of these was the chaos of Karen's personal life. While it is refreshing for characters to show themselves as fallible and human, too much time is given to Karen's problems, with few surprises evident. However, she is clearly one of life's survivors, a character with a sense of humour and some interesting facets which could have been developed further.

Research was good, with care clearly given to forensics and investigative procedures. While plotting was sound there were avenues which could have been exploited to greater effect, such as the fact that Karen's family lived next door to the Marshalls at the time of the disappearance. Although the novel worked well enough as far as it went, I found the potential offered in its early chapters not fully realised.