After reading Book #11 Child’s Play I really thought it couldn’t get better. And, of course, I was mistaken! Angela Marsons comes up with another impressive plot and a new series of questions to ponder.
When the body of 21 year old Samantha Brown is found, everyone, including DI Kim Stone and forensic pathologist Keats, is convinced it’s a clear case of suicide. No signs of struggle, no forced entry, the flat was locked from inside. The method may be unusual -the victim cut her own throat with a knife and bled to death, but not impossible.
Kim breaks the news to Samantha’s parents and here it is …a fleeting phrase that suggests that they were not particularly sure Samantha was ready to live on her own. Something keeps bothering Kim about the crime scene, something she understands only by looking at the photos and doing a little forensic experiment. Samantha’s case gets reclassified as murder. Kims’ team discover that Samantha stopped using social media three years ago after a particularly bad relationship break-up. Her parents give evasive answers and it quickly becomes apparent they are hiding something.
When a second body is discovered in a nearby park lake, Kim’s team start looking for connections which lead them to the Unity Farm, an incospicuous spiritual commune. Samantha’s parents are convinced it is a cult disguised as a spiritual retreat and wellness centre, but Kim is not convinced. After all, Samantha was an adult free to make her own life choices and capable of making independent decisions. Kim visits meets Jack Black, the man who founded the Farm. jack tells her a bit about their activities designed to provide shelter and help to vulnerable people in need of emotional support. In his opinion, Samantha didn’t want to leave (nobody wants to leave this place), she got snatched by force. Who did it? and is there really more to the Unity Farm than meets the eye? Kim decides to send one of her own, an undercover police officer to get an insider’s view. The only problem is that undercover operations usually take a lot more preparation and special training. Surely, the Unity Farm can’t be that dangerous when all they need is just a one day reconnaissance mission?
As usual in Kim Stone novels, we also have another subplot. This time it is Bryant, Kim’s right hand. He is haunted by one of his first cases, a brutal rape and murder of a 15-year old teenager Wendy Harrison. The perpetrator has served 26 years and has been granted parole. He is about to leave the prison, but Bryant and Wendy’s father are convinced Drake is going to kill again.
Every member of Kim’s team is unique and contributes to the investigation in their way. As this case isn’t as close to home for Kim as the previous one was, we get to see a much calmer, more detached version of her. She notices everything and is there for every member of her team, as a true leader. She is also not afraid to admit to making mistakes.
It is obvious that a great deal of research has gone into this book which taps into our universal fear of being manipulated, especially when we are vulnerable due to grief or emotional turmoil. I learnt a lot about psychological techniques of indoctrination and mind control from this book. Bryant’s subplot comes with its own ethical dilemma: is it possible to find approach to and rehabilitate every criminal or some minds are bound to remain evil forever? I just loved the title which reflects brilliantly both storylines and their big questions that get merged seamlessly in the end.
Finally, can it be read as a standalone? Yes. I enjoyed meeting the team and seeing the developments in their lives, but the book has an engaging plot, clear focus, and flawless writing style that can be enjoyed without having read the previous instalments.
Thank you to NetGalley and Bookouture for the ARC provided in exchange for an honest opinion.