If there is a league table which ranks ‘Every Parent’s Worst Nightmare’ events in terms of trauma, torment and terror, having a child kidnapped must come near the top. It could be argued that death is at least final and offers – however bleak a prospect that may be – a sense of closure and a chance for the living to rebuild their lives. But kidnap? Uh-uh; cue uncertainty, recrimination, the anxious waiting for that ‘phone call, the wondering, the sheer agony of not knowing. That is the fate of Tony and Yvonne Richards in the latest novel from Rachel Amphlett (left) when they return to their Kent home from a trip to Milan to find that their daughter Melanie has been taken. Neither Tony nor Yvonne is cut out to be Bryan Mills /Liam Neeson, and so they scrape together the ransom, make the drop, and frantically drive to the derelict industrial estate where Melanie, they hope, will be waiting for them. What they actually find delivers a killer blow – literally.
Now, it is inevitable that the police become involved. The investigating officer, Kay Hunter, has endured that most bitter visitation that a young woman can suffer – a miscarriage. Was it the result of workplace stress? No-one will know for sure, but there can be few workplaces as stressful as a police incident room during a major enquiry. Not only was the Detective Sergeant up to her eyes in the action, but she ended up the subject of a professional standards investigation. Now, despite having been exonerated, the experience has scarred her physically and psychologically and left her with a powerful enemy in the shape of DCI Angus Larch. In spite of all this, she must put personal matters to the back of her mind, and do everything in her power to find the killer of Melanie Richards.
Hunter tugs away at the few available frayed threads of the investigation until she has enough twine to weave a recognisable tapestry that shows a victim and those culpable for the crime. Larch does his best to belittle her efforts, but she has a strong supporter in her immediate boss, DI Devon Sharp. There is a very clever twist in the final third of the story when it becomes apparent that the latest kidnap victim is the estranged daughter of a member of the investigating team. It has become commonplace for fictional coppers to have chaotic personal lives, but there is a feelgood corner of this novel where the reader can take comfort in the warm relationship between Kay Hunter and her veterinarian husband, Adam.
Some crime novels are very location-dependent and none the worse for that, but Rachel Amphlett doesn’t waste much time on the setting. We know we are in Kent, somewhere near Maidstone, but beyond that all the focus is on the people and the action. Regular readers of police procedurals will be at home with the whiteboards, the frustrated peering at indistinct CCTV footage, the tension of the team briefings and the ingrained sweaty ambience of the interview rooms. One of the strong points of this novel is the way Amphlett handles the pace. She takes a calculated risk by letting us know early in the piece who the bad guys are, but shows her narrative skills by ratcheting up the tension in a nicely judged upward curve of anxiety. In the end we know who did what to whom, and have a working knowledge of their motivation. This novel doesn’t break new ground, but is thoroughly readable and is an enjoyable journey through a familiar landscape.