One of Roz Watkins’ greatest spare time pleasures is to step out into the magnificent Peak District countryside… and scout out murder locations.
And she couldn’t have found a more atmospheric spot than the labyrinth of caves carved into the limestone rocks of the Peak’s high ridges as the showcase for her dazzling debut crime mystery.
Shortlisted for the CWA Debut Dagger Award and already optioned for a TV series by ITV Studios, The Devil’s Dice harnesses all the brooding menace of Derbyshire’s mysterious, ancient caverns for a powerful, edge-of-the-seat thriller.
With a complex and compelling plot reminiscent of Agatha Christie, an intriguing female police inspector who would give Ann Cleeves’ Vera a run for her money, and all the edginess of fellow Peaks author Stephen Booth’s Cooper and Fry mysteries, this is a cracking opener to an exhilarating new series.
When respectable local lawyer Peter Hamilton is found dead in a remote, hollowed-out cave fifteen feet above ground in a network of caverns notorious for suicides, it appears initially as if he has taken his own life by eating poison.
But the area’s new Detective Inspector Meg Dalton, who is on ‘Mission Reinvent Self in Derbyshire’ after troubles in her personal life, is convinced that Hamilton’s death is a case of cold-blooded murder.
The area resonates with rumours of a local curse and Meg’s own blood runs cold when she finds, chiselled into the cave wall next to the body, an image of the grim reaper and the dead man’s initials… and they have been there for over a century.
As Meg battles to solve the increasingly disturbing case with her trusty, jocular work partner, DS Jai Sanghera, always ready to help, it soon becomes clear that not all her colleagues are on her side and that someone somewhere knows her secrets.
It seems the murderer is playing games with Meg… and the dice are loaded.
Watkins, who takes us on a white-knuckle ride through death, mystery and the dark and forbidding caves of the Peaks, is an exciting new writer, setting out her stall with a multi-faceted crime mystery that manages to deliver on every level.
The perfect balance between darkness and light, humour and horror, ordinary and extraordinary is expertly rendered and in Meg, we have a flawed, fallible but very human leading lady whose detection skills are constantly put to the test by a team of almost exclusively male colleagues.
The wily female detective’s private and professional lives are beautifully played out without distracting from a plot that is tense, fast-moving and gripping, and yet still finds time to explore some fascinating ethical and moral issues.
With its formidable backdrop and an author who is as skilled and assured as a seasoned writer, this is a series that can be confidently tipped for the top.
(HQ, paperback, £7.99)