Published by Orion on September 21, 2021
Genres: Crime, Thrillers
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A crimewave sweeps through the city and no one is safe.
A murderous arson attack at the docks.A brutal carjacking in a deserted car park.A fatal hammer attack in a lonely country park.
Crimes without motive, without suspects, without leads.
Each crime is a piece of a puzzle - with many more pieces still to come. And as they gradually fall into place, Detective Inspector Helen Grace comes to realise just how twisted and devious this web of crime is - and how impossible it will be to stop it . . .
I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
I’m completely new to the novels of M.J Arlidge and his heroine DI Helen Grace. Initially, I was concerned about coming into a series at its tenth iteration but I needn’t have worried. Arlidge’s writing in Truth or Dare is so tight and fast-paced that there’s no danger of feeling lost. I was instantly sucked into this police procedural and captivated by the plotting and characters.
Within days, the city of Southampton has seen three brutal crimes committed – all seemingly without motive – and completely unconnected. With the pressure of the press, her superiors and colleagues, DI Helen Grace needs results. Her job is hard enough without her second-in-command DS Joseph Hudson conspiring against her. Bitter and twisted after their affair ended, he’s chipping away at her authority, undermining her every decision. Not only that, but he’s also leaking information to local reporter Emila Garanita who has her own agenda against Grace.
Battling both Hudson’s plans and the fact that more crimes keep occurring, Grace looks to be defeated. Thankfully, there are still loyal players in her team, including her superior DCI Simmons who have got her back. But, just as Grace gets a break in the case, the person who supplied that lead turns up dead. How can Grace be expected to crack the case when no one survives long enough to interview?
Slowly, Grace begins to piece together the puzzle, fearing there’s something else at play. The clues are all there – she knows she just has to connect them all up.
The main character of Truth or Dare is of course Helen Grace. Steadfast, committed and with a true instinct, she is clearly devoted to the job. Previous issues may haunt her but her resilience means she never gives up on a hunch. Although some aspects of Grace’s personality and history are explored in previous books, she still felt fully fleshed out to me. I understood and empathised with her annoyances at colleagues and her frustration at the turns the case was taking. If she wasn’t so well written I wouldn’t have been able to connect in any way.
Her subordinate (in more ways than one) DS Hudson is your typical ‘threatened male’ adversary. Full of attitude and clearly with some issues, he was the only character where I felt I needed more from the other novels to expand on his personality. Other regular characters from this series are well-rounded enough to connect with new readers while I imagine some are welcome inclusions for regulars.
The newer characters included for plot purposes are many and varied. Some we only get a fleeting glance while others have many chapters building them up. Whether they all make it to the end would be telling, but suffice to say they all do a damn good job. All are realistic, fully developed and completely ambiguous adding to the tension of the plot.
I was truly impressed with the structure of Truth or Dare. Told over seven consecutive days, each scene is given a chapter of its own, giving an almost cinematic effect. It wasn’t until I read Arlidge’s bio that I realised that he’s worked in TV, specifically crime dramas, which explains the snappiness of the writing. These small chapters (often only one or two pages) keep the narrative pacey and urgent; nothing is superfluous or padded. There are no drawn-out interrogation scenes or any moments of erstwhile internal monologues (while staring into the distance). This is ‘wham-bang’ writing at its best. And a complete joy to read.
Secondary characters are teased early on in the novel, only for you to have that ‘Oh! Hang on. OH!’ moment several chapters later when the penny drops for both CI Grace as well as you the reader. Arlidge gives the reader tiny little nuggets of info that seem inconsequential at the time but then slowly complete the complexing puzzle. I love thrillers that unravel the plot for the characters at the same time as the reader; nothing worse than working it out chapters before the main character or their entire police force!
Arlidge’s work in tv comes into play again with his ability to write dialogue. Script-like in its pace and fluency it adds real atmosphere to those essential moments in the plot – especially the one-to-one scenes. Reactions aren’t overly dramatic – a slight eye-twitch here, a sigh or eye roll there – it’s all so incredibly subtle.
Truth or Dare is a fantastically paced police procedural (try saying that five times fast) with great characters that are easy to relate and connect to. Without giving too much away it ends on a barn-stormer of a cliffhanger that means I’ll be pre-ordering the next instalment of Helen Grace’s caseload.
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