New Year, New Books: A Lake District Thriller

Today’s new book came out in 2018, and is published in paperback next week

The Puppet Show by MW Craven

published 2018

Long Meg and Her Daughters, the scene of the third murder, and Castlerigg, the scene of the first, were two of most visually impressive prehistoric monuments in the country. They were internationally-known stone circles. Cumbria also had countless other Neolithic circles, including some that were so small they could only be identified from the air.

Poe didn’t know of any near Cockermouth. He suspected that either the police or the Immolation Man had seen a circle where there wasn’t one. Most fells in Cumbria had naturally occurring rocky outcrops and stone formations, and if you were standing in the middle of one it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to imagine they’d been strategically by a Stone Age civilisation thousands of years ago.

But Poe was wrong.

There was a stone circle near Cockermouth.

commentary: Apparently there are 68 stone circles in Cumbria in the North of England. That’s a bit worrying, because the serial killer in this book seems set on murdering someone near each of them…

MW Craven, a new author to me, uses his setting to great effect: the book is very much embedded in the Lake District, and the scenery is beautifully described as well as being an important part of the plot. The characters move around the area: Derwentwater and the fells, Carlisle and Keswick play key roles, and all are brought to life. This is Cumbria Noir…

The police service is panicking over the murders by Immolation Man, so they bring back a disgraced detective with the excellent name of Washington Poe. He links up with a young research specialist, Tilly Bradshaw: she has special needs but can deliver the goods. They are an excellent team, and we can only hope that this is the first of a series featuring them. Their relationship and dialogue are hugely entertaining and delightful.

This is a proper police procedural, with a very gripping step-by-step investigation, and some very clever clues. It is also a true serial killer book, and at times can get very gruesome indeed. That is my only reservation, and I feel I should point that out for those who like a warning. But as you can see from the comments on the cover, below, most people really like this book. It is very confidently-written, it doesn’t read like a debut at all.

The test for Poe and Bradshaw is to try to find what links the killer’s victims, and as usual the answer lies in the past and is uncovered bit by bit - and a very horrible story it is. By the end Poe is left with a moral dilemma, one only resolved in the final words of the book.

The sleuthing goes in all kinds of interesting directions. We learn about the Percontation Point – ‘a little-known notation used to indicate that the sentence is to be taken rhetorically, ironically, or as sarcasm.’ I’d never heard of it, so checked, and yes it is a real thing.

There is full and engrossing use of modern technology, and there is even a visit to a coffee shop in Carlisle that I have been to myself.

There is an exhumation scene – something I always enjoy, I once wrote an article for the Guardian about such events in literature.

With thanks to Jackie for making the connection…

Pictures show Long Meg and Her Daughters, top, Castlerigg, second, and the cover of the paperback – out on Jan 24th.


  1. You had me at the Lake District setting, Moira! And it does sound like a very engrossing police procedural. This one definitely goes on the list!

    1. The setting is intrinsic to the book and done very well. Just remember I warned you that it is violent!

  2. I am in the midst of a group of Canadian crime fiction books but this sounds very interesting. Last spring I visited Stonehenge and found it a powerful experience.

    1. Yes, stone circles certainly evoke atmosphere - whether they are visited or written about! look forward to hearing about your Canadian books.

  3. I've heard good things about this one from a few on-line friends, but I'm not a massive fan of the serial killer book. There are a few authors I'll make an exception for.

    1. I thought this one would be right up your street. I don't think I knew you were averse to serial killers... (in books. I would expect you to be averse in real life!)

  4. I too was attracted by the Lake District setting, but I am definitely off serial killer stories. I am reading one right now, accidentally. So far, that is my only complaint about the book, but it confirms that I just don't like that kind of story. I am sometimes willing to try an author regardless, and sometimes it is worth it, but there is just something (more than one thing, actually) that bothers me about that type of story.

    1. I am not always a huge fan of those books, it depends very much on there being a proper strong story too, and not too much violence just for the sake of it. So this one passed the test.


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