Mystery writer Stephen Puleston has had Detective Inspector Ian Drake and Detective Sergeant Caren Waits of the Wales Police Service work their way through three significant crime novels (Brass in Pocket, Worse than Dead, and Against the Tide). Perhaps it was time to explain how they started working together in the first place. Or perhaps a “prequel novella” made good sense from a marketing perspective.
Regardless of the motivation behind it, Puleston’s Devil’s Kitchen is a good story.
Drake and Waits are called to a popular climbing and hiking area called Devil’s Kitchen (a real place, by the way) in the mountains of northern Wales, near their home base city of Caernaffon. A married couple have been found dead – she by stabbing and he by a fall. It certainly looks like an open-and-shut case of murder-suicide.
Something about the crime scene bothers Drake. He’s a brand new detective inspector, handling his first murder case. His rather neurotic tendencies toward cleanliness and fastidiousness in full flood in the three novels are showing themselves, but barely. Family tensions are just now coming to the fore. For Waits, she spends considerable time biting her tongue during interrogation of witnesses, knowing that Drake is her leader and she needs to learn how he works.
Drake experiences the direct pressures of the police higher-ups to make a quick end to the investigation. He’s able to resist the pressure by appealing to procedure – he knows he and Waits have to be thorough in examining the lives of the two dead people and identifying a motive for the husband to have killed his wife.
The solution will turn out to be anything but the obvious.
Puleston is an engaging writer, creating two police investigators who are all too human and have their own odd quirks (although, to be fair, Drake seems to have more quirks than Waits). Their personalities become part of the investigation story, including both the things they see and the things they miss.
If you haven’t read Puleston’s Inspector Drake series, this “prequel novella” is a good, suspenseful introduction.
Top photograph: A view of Devil’s Kitchen in Wales, via Trip Advisor.