First Sentence: It was a bad day to die…a perfect one to kill.
Newly-qualified crime scene investigator Grace McColl is trying to prove herself after making a disastrous mistake on a previous case. Detective Constable Nick Weston has just been transferred to the Lake District after nearly dying during an investigation in London. Neither of them can understand why they've been called out on a dog having been shot, except for the presence of the wife of a local MEP (Member of the European Parliment). Upon examining the dog, it's clear the shooter wasn't the local farmer. But why is there a trained sniper in the area, and who was the real target?
It is difficult to say much about this book without giving away spoilers. My best recommendation is to read it cold without having looked at any information about the plot, impossible as that may be. And so…
An excellent opening is one which compels one to continue reading. Zoe Sharp has accomplished that goal in spades with her new standalone which is a remarkable combination of police procedural and psychological thriller.
The initial crime is unexpected, but through it we meet a number of important characters. The introductions to CSI Grace McColl, DC Nick Weston, Special Constable Jim Airey and his daughter Edith are very well done.
The dialogue is realistic. One can hear the characters voices—"'Do you honestly think I have so little to occupy my time that I would have called for a second opinion if I didn't think it was necessary?" 'What do you need me for.' 'Well, not for your sparkling wit and winning personality,' she murmured…". The imagery is equally good—"He nodded to the young bullocks occupying the neighboring field. Large chestnut-coloured animals who had gathered about fifteen yards away to watch the interlopers, blowing out noisy breaths as they shuffled their feet and nudged each other like big stupid kids on a dare."
Having one mystery solved early in the story is unusual, but really well done. The"who" is clear, but not the "why." Learning the "why" is what takes the plot down many a twisted road with more deaths and characters different from those one has previously seen. Getting to know Grace by seeing her through Nick's eyes is nicely done. At the same time, one also learns about Nick and his situation. Sharp's characters are very real in that they all, some more than others, have baggage. Many are characters which will make one very uncomfortable, yet they make one continually curious as to how events will all fit together.
The detailed description of what literally happens when one fires a weapon becomes almost visual. It is certainly not something thought about by most people, and it's fascinating. Sharp not only places her characters in dicey situations but takes one along with them—"So here he was, trudging up a rough field in the dark, dressed head to foot in black from his watch-cap to his boots. Tucked inside his jacket were a slim jemmy and a lock-pick set, either of which would have earned him a trip to the cells if he was caught with them. Hell, he would have arrested himself."
This is the type of book where, if one must put it down, it stays in one's mind until it can be picked up again. However, it's really a book one wants to read uninterrupted. There are several different themes at play, beyond the murders, which are extremely well done. Sharp does a wonderful job of escalating the tension and suspense. Moreover, she creates within the reader emotions of both outrage and sympathy toward a single character and has created an ending filled with possibilities. Although written as a standalone, one really does want to know where these characters go next.
"Dancing on the Grave" is an excellent read which deals with the psychology of the characters as well as the forensics of the crimes. It is both suspenseful and disquieting, clearly demonstrating Sharp's true skill as a writer.
DANCING ON THE GRAVE (Pol Proc-CSI Grace McColl/DC Nick Weston-England-Contemp) - Ex
Sharp, Zoë – StandaloneZACE, Ltd. – June 2018