|NO WAY OUT
Penguin Books (www.penguin.co.uk)
A house fire in an upmarket area of North Oxford leads to the gruesome discovery of two dead children. There is no sign of their mother, and their father – who was in London at a conference – isn’t answering his phone, or responding to any of the public calls for his attention. Detective Inspector Adam Fawley and his team, certain that the fire was set deliberately, start to dig into the family’s background and discover that money problems may well be at the root of the problem: the house has been in the father’s family for generations, but his grandfather’s cast-iron will ensures that he can never sell it. As the investigation proceeds, Fawley’s team make discovery after stunning discovery leading towards a solution to the crime that lies deep in Michael Esmond’s distant past.
It’s little over a year since Cara Hunter – and, indeed, DI Adam Fawley – appeared on the scene with her debut novel Close to Home. No Way Out is the third book in the series and, fortunately for those of us who claim to be fans – this series seems to get better and better as it goes on. This is a case that feels very personal to Fawley, two dead children who seem to have been failed by their parents making uncomfortable parallels with the death of his own son.
The team dynamics have shifted since In the Dark – Quinn has been demoted, and Gislingham temporarily promoted in his place, which causes some tension between the two men, and puts a lot of pressure on Gislingham to prove himself both to his teammates and to his boss, Fawley. Ex-uniform Erica Somer, who played an important role in the previous book, makes the jump to CID, and joins the ranks of Fawley’s team as a Detective Constable, forcing her to prove herself to the same people, for entirely different reasons. The team are an important part of the story, and they work well together, compensating for each other’s weaknesses when required and, for the most part, being a close-knit, supportive group.
Fawley himself takes an interesting role in this latest novel, his personal life having massive impact on his professional life, more so even than during the Daisy Mason case. His wife has left him – something he attempts to keep from the team – while whispers at the station put him and Somer in an intense – if ill-advised – relationship. Here we see a much more human, much more emotional Fawley than we’ve grown used to, but thankfully it doesn’t seem to have much impact on his deductive reasoning abilities or his ability to solve this increasingly complex case.
While No Way Out and its predecessors are essentially police procedurals, Hunter takes an extra step and allows us to look at the investigation from a number of different angles. Besides the points of view of Fawley and his team members – the likeable young Gislingham gets a starring role this time around – Hunter also presents the case to us through the eyes of the “gutter press” – various reports from the Oxford Mail are interspersed through the chapters – and from the public. While there are no Twitter feeds or Facebook exchanges this time around, we see plenty of the vitriol you’d expect to see online through the comments sections of the various news articles that appear.
As always, the strength of Hunter’s storytelling lies in her ability to constantly keep us on our toes. The case we start out with is more or less unrecognisable by the time we reach the end, but there’s a logical progression – and, thankfully, a logical solution – that leaves us feeling satisfied and entertained. Her characters are well-developed, and it’s excellent to be able to follow them as they deal with each new case and the challenges it brings. To all intents and purposes this is “A DI Adam Fawley Thriller”, but unlike many fictional star detectives, this is as much about the wider police team, and each of the characters contributes in some way to making the story as real as possible.
With three books in little over a year, Cara Hunter could be in danger of her readership burning out with Fawley fatigue. Given the strength of her writing, and the groundedness of her world and her characters, that’s unlikely to happen any time soon. The series goes from strength of strength, with each subsequent book building on the foundations laid by the previous volumes. Slick and fast-paced with a wonderful humorous heart, No Way Out is an excellent addition to this author’s rapidly-growing oeuvre and a must-read for anyone who considers themselves a fan of crime fiction. While it works well as a standalone mystery, No Way Out is, of course, best enjoyed as part of the Fawley series. Either way, it’s time to add Cara Hunter to the do-not-miss list, and to start looking forward to book four!