The Puppet Show by M.W. Craven @MWCravenUK #BookReview

Welcome to the Puppet Show . . .

A serial killer is burning people alive in the Lake District’s prehistoric stone circles. He leaves no clues and the police are helpless.

When his name is found carved into the charred remains of the third victim, disgraced detective Washington Poe is brought back from suspension and into an investigation he wants no part of.

Reluctantly partnered with the brilliant, but socially awkward, civilian analyst, Tilly Bradshaw, the mismatched pair uncover a trail that only he is meant to see. The elusive killer has a plan and for some reason Poe is part of it.

As the body count rises, Poe discovers he has far more invested in the case than he could have possibly imagined. And in a shocking finale that will shatter everything he’s ever believed about himself, Poe will learn that there are things far worse than being burned alive …

The Puppet Show will be published in paperback later this week and I'm so thrilled to be sharing my review today. Huge thanks to M.W. Craven and Beth from Little, Brown Book Group for inviting me to review the book and for sending me an advance copy of the novel.

M.W. Craven has written a number of crime novels but after reading The Puppet Show I suspect he's also an alchemist. He's taken all the usual elements of a great thriller - a twisty, gripping plot, a strong sense of place, superb characterisation and a terrifying serial killer who always seems to be one step ahead of the police and has created what can only be described as crime fiction gold.
The book opens with a grisly murder as a man is burned alive in an ancient stone circle. The description of his death is gruesome and I knew immediately that this was going to be a dark and disturbing read. It's certainly that but it's also a wonderfully crafted novel which introduces two characters who I absolutely fell in love with. I was immediately intrigued by Washington Poe just because of his fabulous name but before long I became completely enamoured by this resolute and principled detective. When we meet him he is suspended from duty from the Serious Crimes Analysis Section (SCAS) following his previous case after his actions caused the death of a man and is under investigation by the IOPC (formerly the IPCC). His former Detective Sergeant, Stephanie Flynn has been promoted to his old role as Detective Inspector in his absence and has tracked him down to his remote croft in Shap Fells, Cumbria. She informs him that the director of SCAS has lifted his suspension and wants him working on what has been termed the Immolation Man case as her DS. His initial response is to walk away from the job - although he finds it harder to say goodbye than he expected. His resolve is immediately tested, however, when Flynn hands him an Osman Warning to notify him that he is a potential victim of the serial killer. He understandably decides to tear up his letter of resignation and discovers that not only was the third victim of the Immolation Man staked in a stone circle, covered in accelerant and set on fire, he also had Poe's name slashed on his torso. It seems as though the killer has Poe in his sights but why? He might have thought he could leave the job for a quiet life in the fells but now it's personal and he accepts his downgraded position which in itself opens up an interesting dynamic as the book progresses. His former sergeant is now his boss and Flynn is a by-the-book officer whereas Poe is instinctive, resistant to authority and more than prepared to disobey orders.
The relationship between Poe and Flynn is interesting but the real highlight of the book is the partnership that develops between Washington and civilian analyst, Tilly Bradshaw. Tilly is a brilliantly clever mathematician who got her first Oxford degree at sixteen and has a master's and two PhDs. However, despite her extraordinary mind, she has led a sheltered life and finds social situations deeply confusing. I knew I was going to love Washington Poe when he confronts a bully who has been making Tilly's life a misery at work and it didn't take long before I realised that she is also a beautifully rendered character who is far more than a socially awkward computer nerd. She may be naive but she is also sharp, funny and surprisingly devious. The pair seem to be polar opposites but they are both outliers and the friendship that develops between them is a joy to behold, making me laugh and cry in equal measure.
The investigation into the Immolation Man and his macabre reasons for targeting middle-aged men to burn is compelling and I couldn't tear my eyes from the page as the pacey plot twisted and turned with nail-biting tension and considerable wit. The atmospheric setting is terrifically described too, with the isolated locations and often inclement weather in Cumbria giving a vivid sense of place to proceedings. In The Puppet Master, M.W. Craven has written an intelligent crime novel which combines all the thrills of a desperate race against time to apprehend a serial killer with the frustrations that ensue due to the politicking that occurs behind closed doors. The truth behind the killer's motives are dark and upsetting and together with the brutal nature of his crimes, this isn't a book for those who prefer their crime fiction on the cosier side. I loved every word, from that horrific beginning right through to the shocking reveal at the end. The Puppet Master is an absolute triumph of a novel and I'm so excited to read the next Washington Poe book, Black Summer later this year. In the meantime, I highly recommend this truly outstanding thriller.

The Puppet Man will be published in paperback by Constable, an imprint of Little, Brown Book Group on 24th January 2019 and can be pre-ordered or purchased from the following;
Amazon UK

About the Author

 M.W. Craven was born in Carlisle, running away to join the army at the age of sixteen. He spent the next ten years travelling the world having fun, leaving in 1995 to complete a degree in social work with specialisms in criminology and substance misuse.
Thirty-one years after leaving Cumbria, he returned to take up a probation officer position.
Recently he took the plunge, accepted redundancy and became a full-time author.
He now has entirely different motivations for trying to get inside the minds of criminals.

M.W. Craven is married and lives in Cumbria with his wife Joanne.
When he isn't out with his springers spaniel or talking nonsense in the pub, he can usually be found at punk gigs and writing festivals up and down the country.
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