‘Sara! Remember! Victoria and Albert. All I can say. They’re here. They’re – ’

These are the last words Sara Prior will ever hear from her husband.

As DS Nathan Cody struggles to make sense of the enigmatic message and solve the brutal murder, it soon becomes clear that Sara is no ordinary bereaved wife and is equally determined to make sense of it. Taking the investigation into her own hands, Sara is drawn into a world of violence that will lead her in a direction she would never have suspected. For Cody, meanwhile, things are about to get personal in the darkest and most twisted ways imaginable…

I’d read and enjoyed Don’t Make Sound, the author’s previous book in his Nathan Cody series, and so was eager to read his latest book. Although the content is very much darker and there is considerably more violence and brutality throughout the story, I found it to be an equally well-written and engaging psychological thriller. Explicit brutality is evident from the beginning as the reader discovers how Sara’s husband is murdered (no spoilers from me!) and becomes a theme which runs throughout the development of the story. Although there were times when I found this very disturbing, I never had the feeling that the author was using this violence in any gratuitous way; every incident felt contained within the bounds of the psychological integrity of the characters and the plot.

Sara’s strong, proactive personality means that she’s unwilling to leave all the investigating to the police, especially when she realises that she is a suspect. However, her interventions soon expose her to danger as she comes into contact with violent characters from Liverpool’s criminal underworld. DS Nathan Cody, believing in her innocence, is soon side-lined by his bosses and so runs a parallel investigation. However, this is one which exposes a link to an old adversary from a previous undercover job, a kidnapping which had ended badly, leaving him with traumatic memories and unresolved psychological problems. As unwelcome memories come flooding back, he not only has to face up to the effects his fragile mental state are having on his personal as well as his professional life, but is also exposed to ever increasing danger.

The author uses the alternating perspectives of these two main characters to drive the plot forward and increase the tension in ways which, at times, felt almost unbearable. However, his use of this device certainly helped me to feel I was getting to know each of them in a very intimate way, helping me to understand the motivations behind their decision-making and their behaviour. I find that one of the central strengths of David Jackson’s writing is the way in which he faces his characters with having to make choices which could well be life/career changing and, by doing so, exposes them to moral ambiguities and to being forced to face their darkest fears. How far will each of them be prepared to go to resolve the dilemmas they face; do they want revenge or justice?

I think that in this ongoing development of the personality of Nathan Cody, the author very credibly captured how a person who is psychologically fragile can, given the “right” trigger, slip from being able to function normally into a state of mental and emotional disintegration. Even though I admired this portrayal, I found it extremely difficult and disturbing to accompany Nathan on his emotionally fraught journey. Although there were moments when I wondered whether the integrity of the plot-development was in danger of stretching my credulity, I think the author’s understanding of almost intolerable stress enabled him to avoid this.

Since childhood I’ve had a visceral dislike of clowns (I’ve never found them funny!) so the inclusion of a terrifying clown figure certainly exposed me to one of my deepest fears and I can’t imagine anyone reading this disturbing novel without facing the danger of being exposed to theirs! I have to admit that I did miss some of the “Scouse” humour I’d enjoyed in the previous book (apart from the scene in the shoe shop!) but I see that there is to be a fifth book in the series so maybe it will return in that one. I’m already looking forward (I think!) to discovering what new challenges David Jackson has in store for DS Cody!

Linda Hepworth 4/4

Your Deepest Fear by David Jackson
Zaffre 9781785765537 hbk May 2019