The Murder Wall by Mari Hannah is a debut police procedural set in the North East of England. The book opens with the double murder in a church of a young woman and a priest, and the arrival of Detective Chief Inspector Kate Daniels. The narrative then forwards eleven months and we see Kate in her role as a member of Newcastle’s Murder Investigation Team (MIT) where the double killing remains unsolved to the frustration of all involved. A new death, the murder of Alan Stephens, gives Kate the chance to shine as she is appointed senior investigating officer for the first time. However it becomes apparent that Kate recognises the victim, for reasons that are only gradually revealed, and her decision not to disclose this fact puts her reputation on the line. It soon becomes apparent that there is a serial killer stalking victims beyond the North-East of England and as the team struggle to find a connection they have to look beyond their immediate pool of suspects.
For a debut novel, this was a substantial book where the author has clearly undertaken detailed research into modern policing. The murder team were given a sense of focus and energy, with many characters fleetingly introduced before they departed to their appointed tasks. The central character of Kate Daniel was very well imagined, and Hannah cleverly avoids female police stereotypes firstly by integrating Kate’s sexuality into the heart of the case and also by giving her a believable vulnerability which contrasts with her ambition. Other high ranking detectives are also given plenty of back story so they become solid characters rather than supporting the female lead.
It was good to read a crime novel set in the North East of England and although I’ve not visited the city, Newcastle came across vividly. In terms of the crimes at the heart of the novel, the reader is only given as much information as the police uncover, with the exception of passages from the killer’s point of view. I thought these excepts worked well although the motive only becomes clear towards the end of the book.
Overall I thought this a solid and enjoyable read. The Catholic Church played a minor but significant role in parts of the narrative and some of these sections didn’t quite ring true. For example are the last rites still administered these days? But there was a darkness and grit to the book that I liked and this, combined with a strong female lead, means I will certainly be reading any future Kate Daniels books.
A review of the book has appeared in The Guardian.
The author’s website is here.