Jo Fletcher Books, out now
A serial killer thriller with an unusual twist.
Alison Littlewood’s follow-up to last year’s A Cold Season is anything but a sequel. For Path of Needles the author has bravely chosen to take us in another direction this time, mixing crime with fantasy elements to great effect.
When a teenage girl goes missing – vanishing after a school party – her mother receives a shocking parcel through the post, and immediately calls in the police. Enter PC Cate Corbin, who is also soon called out to a body which matches the description of the girl. Even though a more experienced group of detectives take over, it’s Cate who notices that there may be a connection here between the staging of the corpse and a well-known fairy tale.
When she isn’t taken seriously, Cate seeks out local lecturer Alice Hyland, who is an expert in fairy tale lore in all its guises. As more bodies turn up, seemingly linked to other well known stories, Cate gets drawn more and more into the investigation. But can Alice really be trusted? Is she hunter or hunted – she admits herself that the killer could well be female – and what does all this have to do with a strange blue bird that’s shown up in the area? The way through the forest is definitely not clear, and it’s never been more dangerous.
Written before things like Grimm hit the screen, Path of Needles will nevertheless benefit from the undeniable surge of popularity fairy tales are currently enjoying (with that other show Once Upon a Time… riding high in the ratings, films like Snow White and the Huntsmen and Jack the Giant Killer, plus books such as Philip Pullman’s Grimm Tales and Sarah Pinborough’s Poison doing so well). But this is a very different take on both the fairy tale and crime story, giving us not only a British slant, but a proudly Northern one. Yet at the same time this is also a narrative that’s easily accessible, carrying you along and drip feeding clues until you’re dying to find out who the culprit might be. There’s also the believable and endearing nature of Cate and Alice’s friendship, something that could possibly be used again in a future novel.
Fans of both dark fantasy and crime should get a kick out of this – or even those who just like a good tale, well told.
Verdict: Stray from the path at your peril. 9/10