Wrong Way Home by Isabelle Grey

The Blurb On The Back:

A cold case.

The same night a local hero saved two people from the burning Marineland resort in Southend, a young woman was raped and murdered minutes from the scene of the fire, the culmination of a series of brutal rapes in the town.  The killer was never found.

A new clue.

Twenty-five years on, new DNA techniques have blown the cold case open.  DI Grace Fisher relishes the prospect of finally catching the culprit, but when the evidence doesn’t point to one clear suspect, she must reconstruct the original investigation.  Any suggestion that the Essex force was less than thorough at the time could alienate her colleagues and destroy her chances of reaching the truth.

A final shot at justice.

Grace finds her investigation shadowed by a young true-crime podcaster backed by veteran crime reporter Ivo Sweatman.  As pressure mounts she cannot afford to be distracted.  She knows that a cold-blooded killer is slowly being backed into a corner, and a cornered predator is often the most dangerous of all … 

The Review (Cut For Spoilers):

It’s several months after THE SPECIAL GIRLS and DI Grace Fisher has just had a breakthrough on a cold case – the 1992 rape and murder of 19-year-old Heather Bowyer who had been on a night out in Southend-on-Sea with friends.  The murder took place just as DNA evidence was starting to gain significance but the testing techniques weren’t developed enough to gain a profile from either of the two DNA samples that the killer inadvertently left behind and with no other obvious leads the Southend police, led by DI Jason Jupp, failed to make any progress.

Grace, however, thinks that there’s more to the case than meets the eye and is convinced that Heather’s killer was a serial rapist operating within the area.  With the lukewarm support of Superintendent Pitman, she persuaded the Deputy Chief Constable to fund the new tests and a comparison with the DNA database and now she’s got a familial match to Deborah Shillingford, a 52-year-old woman who’d previously been arrested for drink driving.  Deborah has two brothers – Reece and Larry Nixon and a father, Owen, who owned a taxi firm in Southend at the time of Heather’s murder.

But having a DNA profile is only the start of the investigation.  Grace must still identify which of the three men is responsible and that means going back over DI Jupp’s investigation.  The deeper Grace and DS Blake Langley get though, the more questions they find about Jupp and his activities and the more the current Southend police squad clam up. The last thing she needs is for her investigation to be shadowed by a true crime podcast run by 25-year-old Freddie Craig, a would-be journalist trying to get his big break who feels a connection with Heather as he was born on the night she died.  Worse, Freddie’s being mentored by Fleet Street hack Ivo Steadman who has his own connection to the original investigation and also to DI Jupp and is seeking to make amends for his previous mistakes …

The fourth in Isabelle Grey’s DI GRACE FISHER THRILLERS series is a smoothly written, intricately plotted affair that kept me engrossed from beginning to end and makes a feature of how DNA isn’t a magic bullet for cold cases although I could have done without the will-they-won’t-they romance with Blake (which has never convinced me) and Grey did try too hard to deflect attention from the most obvious suspect, which for me made it predictable.

I do like Grace Fisher as a detective – cool and competent she’s not above bending the rules when she needs to in order to get justice and she’s still affected by the behaviour of her ex-husband and former colleagues (although more implicitly here than in previous books).  I also like the fact that this book isn’t so much about Grace trying to get justice for Heather’s family (although that is part of it) so much as Grace trying to distract herself from her break-up with Blake at the end of THE SPECIAL GIRLS.  To be honest, I could have done without that romance element, in part because I find Blake to be a pretty bland character anyway and the way Grey peppers the book with Grace’s insecurities and suspicions (especially about Blake’s relationship with new DC Carolyn Bromfield who’s been seconded to her squad) for me slowed the plot and added needless angst.  More enjoyable was the scenes and conflict between Grace and her sister Alison and I would have liked to have seen more about the contrasting siblings.

Equally I would have welcomed a few more scenes between Grace and Ivo, although Grey has a good reason for keeping them apart. I especially enjoyed Ivo’s sense of guilt for his past behaviour and how that informs his relationship with the desperate Freddie Craig with Grey making some good observations about how the dynamics of modern mass media cause problems for those without connections or money to break into the industry.  I also enjoyed the nod to the influence of true crime podcasts on how people look at the subject and wish that Grey had made more of the response to Craig’s podcasts as they start to pick up listeners beyond the responses to some of his creepier gimmicks.

The central mystery as to which of the Owen men was responsible for the rape and murder ticks along neatly with Grey making full use of the limitations of DNA and how it throws up issues as much as it solves them.  The dynamic between the Nixon family is interesting but the problem for me was that Grey threw the mystery in too obvious a direction by having Grace focus on just two family members, which instantly made me suspicious of the third and I wished that there’d been more of Deborah and her reactions and information on the family dynamic given some of the developments in the latter quarter.  Grace’s failure to really engage with that third member meant that I found the twist too predictable.

All in all though the pacing is good and the story kept me engrossed from beginning to end and I would definitely check out the next book in the series.

Thanks to the Amazon Vine Programme for the review copy of this book.

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