THE HUNTING GROUND by Will Shindler

THE HUNTING GROUND

Will Shindler

Hodder & Stoughton (hodder.co.uk)

£16.99

Buy a copy from your favourite local bookshop

Down on her luck and in need of some money, Sadie Nicholls finds herself playing waitress at a high society dinner attended by the great and good of British business. When the hand of one attendee wanders a little too far, Sadie chooses self-respect over a payday and packs it in, heading home to her young son. Before the night is over, Sadie will have been brutally murdered and three-year-old Liam will be nowhere to be found. DI Alex Finn catches the case and descends upon the tight-knit community with his team, where they find more than enough suspects, and not a few petty rivalries. When they discover that a similar crime took place in the same flat almost thirty years earlier, it changes the whole focus of the investigation and Finn is now looking not just for Sadie’s killer, but for a man who has already escaped justice and sent someone else to prison in his place.

As I get older, I find myself with less and less stamina to deal with long-running series. Some of my older favourites have long since fallen by the wayside. Two of the most obvious (to regular visitors of Reader Dad) exceptions to this, for now, are Cara Hunter’s DI Adam Fawley series and the more recently-started DI Alex Finn novels from Will Shindler. Both, in their own way, stand out from the background noise of a crowded genre, and in either case, the characters are the main reason for this. The Hunting Ground is Shindler’s third novel and puts us back in the care of Alex Finn, his DS, Jackie Ojo, and DC Mattie Paulsen as they take on this particularly gruesome case which goes from bad to worse as the story progresses.

Readers of Shindler’s previous two novels will know what to expect from The Hunting Ground. This is gritty British crime at its finest, but it’s the examination of the lives of these officers – on and off the job – that sets Shindler apart from his contemporaries. Finn, recently widowed, is a man on the verge of a breakdown, having suddenly stopped hearing the voice of his dead wife, and unable to deal with the sudden silence. His colleagues – and even his boss – can see where he’s headed and, despite whatever is going on in their own lives, are determined to help him get through it. Finn pulls a couple of stunts during this investigation that seem very out of character for him, but both readers and colleagues understand – more so than Finn himself does – exactly what’s happening, and can feel some relief at the outcome of this particular thread – not a “happily ever after” by any means, but a satisfying outcome nonetheless.

The novel also allows the author to dig a bit further into Mattie Paulsen’s personal problems. One of this novel’s main characters – and suspects – is suffering from Alzheimer’s, and Mattie finds herself bonding with his adult daughter, a kindred spirit who knows exactly what Mattie is going through with her own father. Against the backdrop of such a gruesome crime, these tangents shouldn’t really work – should, in fact, have us screaming at the author to get on with it – so it’s testament to Shindler’s talent that he can make these personal stories as gripping as the main reason we’re here.

The Hunting Ground holds a mirror up to our modern society by focussing on a small community in London. In many ways the street where Sadie Nicholls lived and died is very close-knit – everyone knows everybody else, and the local pub acts as a sort of community hub – but in other ways it’s a community stuck in the past, in all the wrong ways: old geezers missing the glory days when they were someone to be listened to, to be obeyed; and it’s an area where racism is still very much in plain sight. Shindler also shines a light on the class issue, touching on a very topical issue prevalent in today’s British politics, through the charity dinner where we first meet Sadie, which makes the news in the background for all the wrong reasons.

The Hunting Ground is an excellent addition to the Alex Finn series and Shindler’s writing continues to go from strength to strength. Like the previous entries it’s dark and can be difficult to stomach at times, but the journey and the payoff are both well worth the read. Detective Inspector Finn and his colleagues are characters that feel like old friends each time we encounter them, and we find ourselves interested not just in how this book will change them, but in how they have evolved since the end of the last book. One of British crime’s finest authors and series, there’s nothing for it now except to wait for Book Four early next year.

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