Proof copy pictured above. The cover art for this book has not yet been finalised.
Tastes Like Fear, by Sarah Hilary, is the third book in the DI Marnie Rome series of crime thrillers. It is preceded by the 2015 Theakston’s Crime Novel of the Year, Someone Else’s Skin and its fabulously disturbing sequel, No Other Darkness. All of these books may be read and enjoyed standalone. I was fortunate to receive an early proof copy, hot off the press. It went straight to the top of my TBR pile and was devoured within a day. This is crime fiction of the highest calibre.
The author takes the difficult theme of teenage runaways, surviving unseen, a blight within the shadows of London; and creates a fast paced, twisty and riveting tale. Set in and around the iconic remains of Battersea Power Station, between the glass boxes rising up on their fetid foundations to provide protected homes for the wealthy, we are introduced to the dregs of a broken society. Those with homes in the remaining ghettos live in fear. Those without homes look at any sort of shelter as safer than life on the streets.
In a junction between the worlds of the despised and the revered there is a car crash. A partially clothed teenager runs across a road causing a driver to swerve into the path of an oncoming vehicle. Seemingly decent families’ lives are thrown into turmoil by life threatening injuries. The girl who caused the accident has disappeared.
Marnie Rome and her sidekick Noah are called in to investigate. There is a possibility that the girl could be May Beswick, photogenic and therefore cared about by a fickle public, missing for twelve weeks and of a family from whom she should have had no reason to run. Eye witnesses confirm that May was not the mysterious girl, but subsequent investigations suggest a possible link between her and other teenage runaways. She lived a life that her parents knew nothing about.
The story is told from several points of view. There exists a ‘safe’ house run by a man named Harm who collects lost girls in order to care for them. They are his family but they must do as they are told. He lectures them on the dangers that lurk in the outside world from which he rescued them and where they may no longer go. He provides clothes, food and shelter but demands a compliant, childlike purity in return.
Alternating between the stories of the girls in Harm’s dubious refuge is the progression of what soon becomes a multiple murder investigation. Accident investigators take over the details of the crash, eager to press charges against one of the drivers. Marnie and Noah are left to search for the terrified looking girl who ran across the road. It is possible she found shelter in a run down housing estate, but it is populated by people with no reason or desire to help the police.
Each time I thought ‘it could be him’ there was a reveal that opened up new and chilling possibilities. Every character is significant and preconceptions are played with before facts remind that all is rarely as it first seems. The writing has depth which belies the ease with which the chapters are read. This is the work of a skilled writer with a sharp and uncompromising understanding of how individuals allow themselves to be manipulated.
At no point did I guess the denouement; I had wandered down several blind alleys along the way. It was a masterful tidying up of threads, some of which I had not even noticed until the reason for their inclusion was made clear. This is truly a book where every word has fought for its place.
I couldn’t wait to reach the end to find out who had done the deeds and why. I then felt bereft that I had allowed myself to finish such an enjoyable read so quickly.
If you enjoy crime thrillers then add this to your wish list for the coming year. It is devious, dark, deliciously chilling. A formidable addition to an accomplished series that just keeps getting better and better.
My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Headline.