When the body of a local farmer is found on the peak of a hill with a pitchfork rammed through his neck Detective Chief Inspector Guillermo Downes is called in. The deceased is Frank Hurst and well known to Downes. Ten years previously Downes investigated the seemingly accidental death of his wife, Sarah. It appeared she’d slipped over and banged her head before collapsing into their swimming pool. The death was viewed suspiciously by the close knit inhabitants of Moreton-in-Marsh in the Cotswolds.
Hurst came to Downes’ attention a second time when two girls went missing from the village on separate occasions. Both seemed to have been enticed away and were never seen again. The police believed the children knew their killer. But the person has never been found.
Downes goes to Frank Hurst’s house. What was once a grand construction is now a fortress. Most of the windows and doors are blocked up and the farmer was sleeping with a shotgun by his side. But who was Frank worried about? The interior is a mess, all except for Frank’s daughter’s room, but she ran away to London not long after Sarah’s death and never returned.
There’s clearly some mystery contained within the house, but before Downes is able to return someone sets a fire and the place burns furiously. Rather than destroying its secrets the conflagration reveals another body…
The dust jacket displays a large blurb from Linwood Barclay. He says that The Drowning Ground is, ‘Dark, gripping and unexpected.’ He gets it just about bang on.
James Marrison’s debut introduces Guillermo Downes, a moody copper with a difference. He’s half Argentinian, born and raised in South America, but now living in the Cotswolds. He’s like a fish out of water. As a point of interest the author is Cotswold born, but these days resides in Buenos Aires. It’s a decent guess that his own experiences of dislocation have been used to colour Downes, to great effect. Downes has a dark past that’s barely alluded to in the story, but he’s clearly a man with baggage. He lives and works in a small village where even third generation residents would be seen as newcomers.
There’s another unusual aspect to The Drowning Ground. The opening pages have a distinct feel to them, which is initially quite hard to pinpoint. If you weren’t aware of the setting the sense of place would be two-fold – exotic, say Cuba, with a 1950’s genteel feel to it.
Another intelligent element to the reading experience is Marrison’s process of a steady stream of reveals. Just as you’ve assumed an understanding of a character, the author will spring out another facet which twists the story a little more. The best example of this is Frank Hurst, the man whom the story really revolves around. It’s impossible to say more without giving anything away, but Marrison manages his character very well.
Most of the story is in first person, from Downes’ perspective. However, every now and again there’s a third person chapter in the head of his new sidekick, Graves. It works, but only partially. It gives some additional material which adds to the story, but seems to be used randomly. A little more of Graves would have been valuable. However, this is a minor issue. All said and done this is an assured debut which promises much for the future.
Originally reviewed for Crime Fiction Lover
Rating: Four Stars