Lord of the Dead, by Richard Rippon, is a dark crime novel set in the North East of England. Its protagonist is Dr Jon Atherton, a university lecturer and psychologist who freelances for the local police force providing profiles of perpetrators from crime scenes. The story opens when he is called to a particularly gruesome murder. The body of a young woman has been found by a dog walker, carved into bits and left in a field.
Atherton suffers from cerebral palsy which affects his mobility. He is married with a daughter but is in counselling following an affair with a colleague he worked alongside on a previous case. His wife is unhappy when he is once again asked to team up with the woman, DS Kate Prejean.
Prejean and Atherton start their investigations by visiting the scene of a previous murder in which another young woman was found in pieces. Their fear is that they may now be dealing with a serial killer, and as time passes this proves to be the case. To find him (apparently it is always a him) they need to work out the motive and how victims are selected. Other than their similar looks the dead woman appear to have nothing to link them.
The police team must deal with the modern trials of crime fighting: an invasive press; social media sharing; a PR department whose budget is the only one not to suffer recent cuts to funding. Added to this it becomes clear that an insider is leaking sensitive information. As further bodies are discovered a need for results leads to an ill advised and disastrous attempt at an arrest.
There are elements typical of the genre: Atherton drinks heavily and struggles to be a decent husband; Prejean is conventionally beautiful and emotionally defensive; there are sexual undercurrents and objectification, a lack of detached professionalism; a woman of colour is underrated. The plot arc, however, is strong enough to belie any accusation of being overly formulaic. Tension is retained without feeling overdone and the prose remains engaging.
I found the forensics lead, Sue Cresswell, a more interesting character than Prejean. Even Atherton’s wife, despite her depression, appeared stronger than this supposedly capable senior investigator. Amongst the men DC Rogers felt somewhat underplayed. Given the large cast I wondered if some were introduced with a view to development in potential sequels.
This is a competently written crime novel, British noir with some intriguing reasoning. A strong addition to a popular genre. For fans of crime fiction it is well worth reading.
My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Obliterati Press.