Sarah and her new book
Sarah Ward was one of my earliest blogging friends: she had started her Crimepieces blog a year or two before I got going, and was very welcoming and friendly to me. At the time she was writing a crime book… and now she’s a best-selling author, with four entries in her DC Connie Childs series. And it couldn’t be more well-deserved, or have happened to a nicer person.
The latest book, The Shrouded Path, was published yesterday, and I had the good fortune to attend a launch event at a marvellous bookshop, Warwick Books (in the town of Warwick, unsurprisingly).
Sarah gave a fascinating talk about her writing life, and the themes that run through her crime stories. All the books have a great sense of place: the Peak District in Derbyshire, her home county. She talked about her fictional town of Bampton, and about how she likes to include strands about the industrial architecture of the county. I was particularly interested in her conscious decision to include the deaths of older women in this current book: a demographic she thinks is under-represented both in life and in fiction.
Steve and Sarah
Selfie ahoy – the three of us
So – a great evening. What about the book?
Like all Sarah’s books to date, the plot has a dual timeline – a crime in the past which is coming back to haunt the characters today. And it’s a great setup: in 1957 six schoolgirl friends walk into a railway tunnel. But only five come out the other end. Sixty years later, no-one seems to know anything about the story. But something is happening to those women, now in their 70s. What an enticing setup - and the book makes the most of it.
Connie Childs investigates, along with series regulars Frances Sadler and Carole Matthews, and a new policeman, Peter Dahl. But it’s not even clear what they are investigating: routine deaths or something more?
Again, as in earlier books, chapters alternate between the police, and another character caught up in the story: this time Mina Kemp, the daughter of one of the original schoolgirls. Her mother is dying of cancer, and is agitated about an old friend, Valerie, and someone she thinks she might have seen on the ward.
I loved The Shrouded Path – I have loved all the books, and think they are getting better if anything. They always have really great plots, and excellent clues – it is obvious that Sarah is a big fan of crime fiction, and has read a ton of it, because she is so good at misleading the reader. They are proper, serious books, very well-written, and featuring (gently) social issues, but they are also funny, with very nice character drawing. The sense of place is marvellous – I am someone who often skims over descriptions and geographical detail, but I love reading about Sarah’s settings, and picturing the changes in the seasons which have come over the four books.
I also love that she shows you can have a real crime story without gruesome violence towards women, and with real and convincing female characters – not as common as it should be in this day and age.
And the books are very well-researched – she told us something about that in her talk, but it’s also obvious in the books. One of my bugbears is when character names are wrong (see me in the Guardian on the subject), and I love the sheer rightness of the names in Sarah’s books – and now she has told us how she does it! (Research) I had clocked that Valerie, Hilary and Ingrid were absolutely right for 50s schoolgirls. And names will prove important in the story.
It is difficult to say too much about the plot of Shrouded Path without spoilering, so I will just give a recommendation that you should read it, along with the other books in the series (it is possible to read them out of order).
Photographs above taken at the event. I also found some schoolgirl pictures from a girls’ annual of the era – the 50s schoolgirls are vividly described, even though we are just getting glimpses of them…
You can read about Sarah’s earlier books on the blog by clicking on her name below.