Review: Dead Man Walking by Paul Finch (4.5/5)

Thursday 13 November 2014
His worst nightmare is back…

As a brutal winter takes hold of the Lake District, a prolific serial killer stalks the fells. ‘The Stranger’ has returned and for DS Mark ‘Heck’ Heckenburg, the signs are all too familiar.

Last seen on Dartmoor ten years earlier, The Stranger murdered his victims in vicious, cold-blooded attacks – and when two young women go missing, Heck fears the worst.

As The Stranger lays siege to a remote community, Heck watches helplessly as the killer plays his cruel game, picking off his victims one by one. And with no way to get word out of the valley, Heck must play ball…

A spine-chilling thriller, from the #1 ebook bestseller. Perfect for fans of Stuart MacBride and James Oswald.

I cannot tell you how excited I was to start this book, especially after receiving a proof copy in the most ingenious way. I held off on getting a NetGalley copy for weeks because I knew a very exciting parcel was coming. After finishing The Killing Club in May, Paul Finch shot right into my top five crime authors, it was just a fantastic book. Expectations were insanely high for Dead Man Walking then, and despite two books in one year being something of a treat, does the quality suffer because of it? Dead Man Walking is marginally different to Paul's previous work, and I can definitely see it being a bit of a Marmite book amongst crime fans. For those new to his work, I'd start at the beginning with Stalkers and work through the series. I was thrilled to be back in the company of DS Mark 'Heck' Heckenburg, one of my favourite fictional detectives. His recent relocation to Cumbria has found him out of his comfort zone, his only excitement coming from attempting to apprehend some small-time thieves, not the sort of criminals he is usually tasked with capturing.

The book's opening felt very much like a horror story, and played out like a horror film in my head, and this is something Paul does incredibly well. An author who can make you feel genuine terror just from words on a page is very exciting indeed. The opening was haunting, with its eery setting as we are taken back ten years to learn more about The Stranger, who is described as a weird sex-murderer, who started off attacking people after dark before targeting lovers' lanes and dogging spots across Devon, leaving no living witnesses. Two young police officers set out to apprehend The Stranger and almost succeed as the female officer puts a bullet into him before he vanishes, presumed dead. The female officer is none other than Heck's ex-boss and former lover, Gemma Piper who after all her comments about Heck's impulsiveness and insubordination, comes across a little bit like a female Heck in these opening scenes. Back in the present day and The Stranger appears to be back and killing again, striking terror into a quiet and isolated community.

I found the opening of the book to be a little slow, and description heavy. Paul usually delivers an exciting, fast paced opening to his books getting you straight into the action but here, given the change in setting there was an awful lot of scene building and at times unnecessary description, it was only later in the novel I fully appreciated the time Paul spent doing this. It's clear that he knows the setting he's talking about, and has researched it really well, it was just that I wanted the story to pick up quicker than it did. That said though the latter half of the book was the Paul that I know and love and the book very quickly becomes hard to put down as The Stranger picks up the pace and the killings escalate, and the villagers soon find themselves in mortal danger. Paul never fails to come up with some absolutely gruesome and brutal descriptions for the crimes that his villains commit, and the villains themselves are always brilliantly evil and at times terrifying, and this is something that I really love. To compare I would say his scenes are at times reminiscent of Chris Carter, probably the best crime author writing today. I want my crime fiction to be as bloody and brutal as possible, and we definitely get that here.

The atmosphere created by Paul is some of the best I've read in crime fiction this year. The setting is only terrifying because of the time of year and the terrible weather, this is a place that in Summer would be beautiful and full of holidaymakers and walkers, but which in off season is almost perfect for what has been created here. Given this change in setting, and the danger that the residents face the book is very unpredictable, I had no idea for the most part where the story was going to go, or who the next victim was going to be and it made the book more thrilling. In terms of twists there's plenty in this book, not least the revelations surrounding The Stranger. I'm still not sure how I feel about these revelations, whether it was silly or pure brilliance. As I said this is going to be a Marmite book and what some people love, others won't. That said though I didn't see the plot twists coming so that's testament to Paul's ability to keep his readers on their toes.

Gemma Piper plays a little bit of a starring role in this book as Heck contacts her about the return of The Stranger and she makes her way to Cumbria. The tension and chemistry between the two is electric, and it makes for fantastic reading. Both are such well developed, interesting and realistic characters and they are two of my favourites in crime fiction. I would love for Paul to write a story about their earlier days, so we can learn more about them with more detailed information than the brief flashbacks we've been given so far. The change in setting also allowed for a change in how the police act and behave. Given that there's no police station as such, or even many police for that matter, most of the action takes place in the field, away from the office environment you usually get where teams can analyse and plan the investigation, Heck has to think on his feet, sometimes acting first and thinking later, having to make instant decisions and this makes for a more exciting read than your everyday police procedural does.

Overall then a fairly solid read which held my interest throughout, in places gripping, in others a little slow but for the most part a very enjoyable story which has left me wanting more. Taking Heck out of his comfort zone was a nice change, and made for a very atmospheric and at times scary read but next time around I'd love to see Heck back where he belongs and for his relationship, both work and personal, with Gemma to be explored further. Both are brilliant characters who those yet to discover must do so right away. I definitely reccommend this book to crime fans.

Thanks to the publisher for the review copy and the incredibly exciting package it came in!

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