Happy paperback publication day to M.W. Craven for The Puppet Show! I was lucky enough to get a paperback proof at Harrogate last summer (thank you Steph Rothwell!). I’d heard lots about the book and I’ve now finally read it.
Welcome to the Puppet Show . . .
A serial killer is burning people alive in the Lake District’s prehistoric stone circles. He leaves no clues and the police are helpless.
When his name is found carved into the charred remains of the third victim, disgraced detective Washington Poe is brought back from suspension and into an investigation he wants no part of.
Reluctantly partnered with the brilliant, but socially awkward, civilian analyst, Tilly Bradshaw, the mismatched pair uncover a trail that only he is meant to see. The elusive killer has a plan and for some reason Poe is part of it.
As the body count rises, Poe discovers he has far more invested in the case than he could have possibly imagined. And in a shocking finale that will shatter everything he’s ever believed about himself, Poe will learn that there are things far worse than being burned alive …
Set in Cumbria, the main protagonist is DS Washington Poe. He had previously been a Detective Inspector but there’s an excellent back story as to why he’s been demoted. In some respects he’s the archetypal police maverick – loner, drinks a bit too much and is willing to break the rules. Having said that, Craven has made sure that Poe isn’t a cliché and one way he’s achieved this is by pairing him with Tilly Bradshaw, a civilian analyst. Tilly is socially awkward but fantastic at her job. To me, she reads as though she’s on the autistic spectrum. I don’t know if M.W. Craven had intended this but if so, it’s great to have characters like this.
The plot is quite dark. A serial killer appears to be targeting random individuals and setting fire to them – not a nice way to go! Poe is on suspension but it’s lifted when one of the victims has Poe’s name carved into his body. This is an intricate plot which unfolds beautifully. I liked the way that Craven focuses in on the mundane part of police work – searching CCTV footage for example – as well as the lightbulb moments that all fictional detectives have.
The setting is fantastic. It’s always good to get away from the main cities and Cumbria exemplifies this. There are of course the tourist areas, particularly around the Lakes, but there’s also a terrific sense of wilderness. The murders take place inside stone circles adding to the creepy sense of place.
This is a great start to a new series and I look forward to reading the next instalment of Poe and Bradshaw.
You can buy The Puppet Show here.
M.W. Craven was born in Carlisle but grew up in Newcastle, running away to join the army at the tender age of sixteen. He spent the next ten years travelling the world having fun, leaving in 1995 to complete a degree in social work with specialisms in criminology and substance abuse. Thirty-one years after leaving Cumbria, he returned to take up a probation officer position in Whitehaven, eventually working his way up to chief officer grade. Sixteen years later he took the plunge, accepted redundancy and became a full-time author. He now has entirely different motivations for trying to get inside the minds of criminals…
The Puppet Show, the first in a two-book deal he signed with the Little, Brown imprint, Constable in 2017, was released to critical acclaim in hardback in 2018. It has been sold in numerous foreign territories and the production company Studio Lambert, creators of the award-winning Three Girls, have optioned it for TV. The sequel, Black Summer, follows in June 2019.
M. W. Craven is married and lives in Carlisle with his wife, Joanne. When he isn’t out with his springer spaniel, or talking nonsense in the pub, he can be found at punk gigs and writing festivals up and down the country.