From the first page of Murder in Thrall by Anne Cleeland, you know this is a mystery novel about a stalker. It’s a recognition of Cleeland’s ability to write suspense that you’re creeped out from the beginning. Then you discover who’s being stalked, and then who the stalker is. That creeped-out feeling never departs, even when the stalker turns out to be one of the heroes of the story.
Murder in Thrall is a fascinating read, it is, as Kathleen Doyle, a young detective constable for New Scotland Yard, would say (she hails from Dublin). A senior officer in the detective corps, initially only referred to as Acton, requests that she be assigned to him. The team investigates the murder of a trainer at a racecourse. Then a woman, a friend of the trainer who might have information, is murdered. And the deaths don’t stop there.
Acton, whom, we eventually learn, is Michael Sinclair, Lord Acton and a peer of the realm as well as a detective chief inspector, is far more aware of what’s going on than the neophyte Doyle. After all, he’s been stalking Doyle (in a good kind of way, if that’s possible) and he knows that someone else at the Yard has been looking at her file and background records.
It’s perhaps inevitable that the professional relationship of Acton and Doyle also becomes a personal one, despite the almost 14 years difference in their ages. As their relationship grows, so does the certainty that they are the ultimate targets of the murderer.
Murder in Thrall is the first of five Acton and Doyle mysteries published by Cleeland, and a sixth is due in September. She’s also the author of three historical novels.
Her detective duo at first sounds like the Thomas Lynley and Barbara Havers novels of Elizabeth George, but the similarities are superficial – Acton and Doyle are quite a bit different.
Murder in Thrall is a hair-raising introduction to Anne Cleeland and her New Scotland Yard detective series.
Top photograph: New Scotland Yard, London.