Young psychologist Alice Quentin, struggling with a massive workload at Guy’s, a large London hospital, is called on by DCI Don Burns of the Southwark police to advise on a case. Part of Alice’s job is to provide professional input to police investigations if a mental-health angle is involved. She is told that a woman has been killed in a horrific way. The method and location of the murder are strongly reminiscent of a ghastly earlier case in which a Fred and Rosemary West-type couple (the wife coloured by a strong shade of Myra Hindley) were convicted of torturing and killing several young women lodging in their house over a period of years.
Burns is now puzzled by how the murderer could have known details about the earlier deaths that were kept from the general public. Alice is struck by her own physical similarity to the new victim. Not only that, but the method of death is that the criminals enclosed the victims in a box and beat them up before stabbing them – which, apart from the stabbing, is exactly what happened to Alice as a child, the abuser being her father.
Although one might think that this is one coincidence too many, the author does not harp on too much about these synergies but instead shifts the focus to Alice’s daily life and her various friends and neighbours – controlling boyfriend Sean, kooky wannabe actress Lola, and her schizophrenic, drug-addicted brother Will. The way in which Alice’s horrific childhood has affected her as well as her mother and brother is a recurring theme in the book, as the three family members remain scarred by their memories. Soon another woman is killed and Alice begins to receive threatening letters and worse.
Alice pursues her own investigations, interviewing the “Rosemary/Myra” character in prison as well as various meetings with a mentally ill man who lived with the infamous couple during their killing spree, who may know something. Although by now Alice is staying in a hotel under 24-hour police protection, it seems to be a race to solve the case before the attacker closes in on her.
There are three obvious candidates for the villain, and the final unveiling leaves one with the feeling that it could just as easily have been any of them. Yet despite the standard plot, the genre clichés, several holes and the questionable borrowing of details from a real-life case, Crossbones Yard is a page-turner with an interesting heroine and a strong sense of its London location — a promising debut novel.
I received this book free in the Amazon Vine programme.
Shotsmag Confidential: post by the author about the setting for Crossbones Yard – fascinating local history.