When Poppy Sinclair and her boyfriend visit snowy Cambridge, she doesn’t expect to discover the body of a student – arms outstretched in the act of smearing bloody angel wings on the chapel’s floor.
Suddenly, Poppy is faced with the possibility that the one closest to her heart might be the one committing the most malicious of crimes.
Dodging porters and police, dreading what she might find, Poppy follows the clues left by a murderer bent on revenge…
Dead Silent by Sharon Jones is the second novel in the Poppy Sinclair crime series. In the first, Dead Jealous, Poppy discovered a dead girl in the lake at a pagan festival. In Dead Silent her visit to her wayward Chaplain father at Cambridge is complicated by a dead boy in the church, a secret society of ‘Angels’ and her determination to seduce her boyfriend whether either of them likes it or not.
The mystery in Dead Silent is well-written and compelling, with the reader usually no more than a step behind or a step ahead of Poppy as she delves deeper into an increasingly convoluted (but never to the point you actually lose your place) mystery. As Poppy’s sort-of estranged, but still adored, father is implicated in the murders and his past begins to seem inextricably linked to them, the sense of danger around the young detective ratchets up at a nicely worrying pace. There were a few places where the author’s hand makes a not quite ignorable appearance to nudge a convenient clue along – such as a final act communication from the killer – but, while not ignorable, these few moments don’t really spoil the fast-paced enjoyment of the book.
Mostly because, frankly, I would probably have read Dead Silent if Poppy had just spent her pages sloping around Cambridge, rolling her eyes at her lapsed-hippy father and worrying over her long-standing/barely fledged relationship with her boyfriend Michael (dating four months, known each other all their lives). In Poppy, Jones has found an eminently fun-to-read heroine. I shy from describing characters as likable, it’s lazy and, besides, I also adore flawed, terrible characters that drag you along with them anyhow. Poppy, however, does seem like someone you wouldn’t mind having a coffee with. She is neither a prodigy nor a damsel in distress, just a normal girl with a slightly worrisome penchant for tripping over dead bodies and enough stubbornness to keep her poking at what she should probably leave alone.
One of my favourite scenes in Dead Silent – which is down to absolute whimsy on my part, and is completely unfair to other marvellous scenes such as the eerie discovery of the various unsaintly dead and a claustrophobic, painfully realistic entry interview where Michael is horrified to realise he ‘had no opinion. [he] was opinionless’) – is when Poppy is waiting for a file from a friendly detective and is trying to buy time to download it over an internet cafe connection. It was simultaneously fun to read – giving the viewer’s heart a rest from the frenetic worry bracketing it, ridiculously Poppy and had me going ‘yes, that would be a problem for the YA detective on the go’.
It would have been easy for characters orbiting Poppy’s vivid narrative to fade into the background. Jones does a good job of not letting that happen. Poppy’s dad – while not conveniently shuffled off for meetings and arrests so Poppy can get on with the sleuthing – is neatly sketched in from his appearances and his daughter’s angry-fond reactions to him. Meanwhile Michael, Poppy’s boyfriend and co-viewpoint character, lacks her appeal, but is still a solidly realized presence in the book. Mostly because he is the sensible partner, left reacting and worrying in the background while Poppy forges off in pursuit. Not his fault, although in future books (Dead Wrong? Dead Last? Dead as Doornail?) it might be nice to see him…in harness with Poppy rather than her anchor – to mix my metaphors to what would be quite a catastrophic degree!
The only caveat to that is that it is hard to care about the victims of the killer. Not because they are unpleasant, although a few of them are, but because it was rather hard to keep them straight. They all rather blurred together in a rather self-consciously bohemian, occasionally threatening mass. Ria was the only one of the group to really stand out for me. The porters were more identifiable.
Dead Silent is a fun, clever read with a fun, clever heroine and an interesting cast of characters.
Dead Silent is available from February 6. Find out more about the books and author at her website.