You would have thought that the scenario of a couple of bodies turning up in a sleepy Cotswold village had been done to – erm - death, but in The Subtle Thief of Youth, Oxfordshire author DJ Wiseman rises to the challenge to produce an intriguing and original mystery.
It’s the last day of a long, hot, summer term, when a freak storm brings filth, chaos and judgement to the twin villages of Germans and Whyncombe St. Giles.
The emergency services kick into action, the police start to search for a missing schoolgirl and the media prepare to tell a story of tragedy, heroism and community spirit. Any community spirit the villagers ever had quickly evaporates with the news that the flood has deposited the remains of little Melanie Staples at the gates of the primary school where she was last seen eleven years earlier; on the last day of the summer term. The detectives who arrive to reinvestigate the case quickly find that the path to the truth lies in disentangling a complex web of informal power structures, self-interest and mutual distrust.
In this, his second novel, Wiseman demonstrates a real gift for creating and telling a strong, carefully crafted story. Despite some uneven characterisation – the author lavishes more care on the cash strapped and semi-criminal Duncans and the well-heeled, but distinctly “outsider” Samarasinghes, than the vicar or the landed gentry – the author still paints a worryingly credible picture of the way in which obsessions with class, appearance and the need to belong can destroy lives and communities.
The Subtle Thief of Youth is on sale at all good bookshops, in paperback and ebook form, or directly from Askance Publishing.