Worse than Dead – a review

My fourth Cloak and Dagger read of 2019 was a return to familiar territory with Stephen Puleston’s Inspector Drake series, set like my current ‘work in progress’ in North Wales. I have already reviewed Brass in Pocket, the first book in the series.

On then to my review of Book 2.

Worse than Dead

(Inspector Drake #2)

by Stephen Puleston (Goodreads Author)

A ferry leaves Dublin…The chief engineer lies dead on the car deck …There’s a killer on board…
Inspector Drake is called from a seminar on cyber crime to meet the ferry docking at the port of Holyhead. Frank Rosen the chief engineer lies on the car deck a knife through his heart. For the first time Drake knows where the killer is but he doesn’t know who. 
When Rosen’s house is ransacked the night after he’s killed Drake knows the killer was looking for something. The data stick Rosen’s wife finds may hold the clues. But the codes and numbers on it only complicate the investigation.
And then Drake’s cousin makes contact and tells him he has information. But can Drake rely on him or does he have another agenda? And when the team discover a direct link to drug dealing in North Wales and beyond there are powerful forces at work. 
Drake’s cousin drags Drake’s family into the middle of the case that piles the pressure on Drake who’s facing regular counselling for his OCD and the prospect of losing his father to cancer.
When Drake’s superior demotes him and acts entirely against protocols Drake knows that something is wrong. Establishing the evidence takes him to Dublin and Cardiff and then on a last minute chase over North Wales to the ancient Fort Belan hoping that he will catch the killer.

Review 4.3 stars

I was hoping that this second Book in Stephen Puleston’s Inspector Drake series would transport me back to North Wales. I was not disappointed.

This was the country I remembered from living there a few years – without the criminal element. That darker side was the world of the first book, providing Detective Inspector Ian Drake with another baffling case.

When Frank Rosen, a ferry’s Chief Engineer is found murdered on the car deck, Drake knows that the killer must still be onboard. But the investigation is complicated when his team is forced to let everyone disembark before a suspect can be identified. A link to drug dealing complicates matters further, especially when different police departments must be involved.

Puleston uses his background as a retired criminal lawyer to lend authenticity and detail to the working of the police and the criminals. Both sides play devious games – fortunately, Drake is not easily fooled in the end.

But he continues to struggle with his OCD as he did in the first book. This idiosyncrasy and his addiction to Sudoku make him a memorable protagonist, although I don’t warm to him. The rest of his team – Caren Waits, Dave Howick and Gareth Winder – have their own traits that we see through Drake’s OCD eyes primarily. I wondered if this was an unusual team or maybe not.

Drake’s Detective Sergeant, Caren had more scenes in her POV than in Book 1, and these helped me get to know her better. POV scenes for Howick and Winder added their perspective but to a lesser extent. Even though Puleston called Caren by her first name throughout, and all the male officers by their surname – which felt strange – I still couldn’t relate to even her.

Conflict weaves its way in the story but comes with the territory even for police with their own rivalries. The domestic tensions are there for Drake and others, echoing real-life experiences of police families as well as the impact of crime on lives.

There are again too many cast members – especially with multiple suspects and witnesses. This is a failing in many books so perhaps forgivable in the final analysis when the plot comes together. A few surprises were in store and most complexities were resolved. But one scene from a different POV confused me – or is to be resolved in the next case.

This is a recommended read and I will be checking out Book #3 as this novel whet my appetite for more from North Wales. The place and people of this beautiful country infused the writing, from scenery to language.

Story – four stars

Characters – four stars

Setting/World-building – five stars

Authenticity – five stars

Structure – four stars

Readability – four stars

Editing – four stars

Brass in Pocket – a review

Amid my factual research for my North Wales mysteries, I’m trying to read the few Wales-based crime novels that have been written in the last decade. However, the first fictional Welsh policeman that I encountered was Rhys Bowen’s Constable Evan Evans in Evan’s Gate the eighth in her series set in Wales. I need to read the other nine, having found this one on a market stall in Porthmadog, North Wales.

For the less-cosy and the grittier tales, I have turned to Harry Bingham’s Fiona Griffiths series and Stephen Puleston’s Inspector Drake series, the latter set in the familiar location of North Wales. Time to review Book 1 then.

Brass in Pocket (Inspector Drake #1)

by Stephen Puleston (Goodreads Author)

Two traffic officers are killed on an isolated mountain pass in North Wales. Inspector Drake is called to the scene and quickly discovers a message left by the killer – traffic cones in the shape of a No 4.

The killer starts sending the Wales Police Service lyrics from famous rock songs. Are they messages or is there some hidden meaning in them?

Does it all mean more killings are likely? When a politician is killed Drake has his answer. And then the killer sends more song lyrics. Now Drake has to face the possibility of more deaths but with numbers dominating the case Drake has to face his own rituals and obsessions.

Finally when the killer threatens Drake and his family he faces his greatest challenge in finding the killer before he strikes again.

BrassInPocket 

Review 4.3 stars

From the moment that two traffic officers are killed on the Crimea Pass, I felt that I was back in Snowdonia and I was drawn in. The setting of North Wales was always the hook for me and it felt real. Having lived there for a few years, I know some of the places. I could visualise the locations, even when I hadn’t been everywhere mentioned. A seamless blend of the familiar with the unknown. I want to return to Puleston’s world even if I can’t return to Snowdonia.

It was hard to like Inspector Drake with his odd habits, like his obsession with tidiness and routines, but I felt drawn to his determination and his team’s dogged work to decipher the significance of the killer’s clues from numbers to song lyrics.

As the killings continued, I set myself the challenge of discovering the killer ahead of the police team. At one point, I believed that I was almost there, but the plot alluded me. The killer seemed to think the numbers and lyrics meant something – unless he was toying with us. There were moments where I wondered if everything was a red-herring. The press played a key role in that, and as an ex-journalist, I have seen what some of them can do.

I was interested in the ways that the novel’s police operated, knowing that the author was a retired lawyer so knew his facts. The details rang true in the telling. I realise that the UK police underwent changes in 2015 so that means Inspector Drake might be facing some frustrating times in future books.

As the threats got more personal in this first book, the life that Drake had created was thrown into the spotlight, including the fallout from his obsessions that kept distracting him from what was important. The characterisation of Drake felt, at times, repetitive but then that was what he had become. Those habits can grate, but he rang true. I had an OCD neighbour once and Drake fits those patterns.

However, the supporting characters never quite earned so much space. His Detective Sergeant, Caren Waits had some scenes in her POV, but they felt like side-tracks and I never felt that we got to know her enough – except through Drake’s viewpoint. As for the other characters, they all had distinct personalities but there were moments when I felt there were too many cast members – especially with multiple suspects and witnesses. Maybe that’s the problem when searching for a serial killer.

However, having a POV for the killer worked much better than the POV for Caren. Seeing the plot unfold from the mind of the ‘game-master’ worked as he drove the plot more than Drake at times.

This is a recommended read and I will be checking out Book #2.

Story – five stars

Setting/World-building – five stars

Characters – four stars

Structure – four stars

Readability – four stars

Editing – four stars

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Season’s Greetings to all my followers and visitors – or should I say Nadolig Llawen.

May 2018 bring us all inspiration, great reading, good health, hope and peace.