Last Rites by Neil White

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Last Rites by Neil White

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Category: Crime
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: Is Sarah Goode a brutal murderer or a victim? A tense story involving witchcraft with good plotting. Recommended.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 518 Date: April 2009
Publisher: Avon
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1847560193

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Sarah Goode's disappearance was inextricably linked to the murder of her boyfriend, Luke Howarth. He was discovered in her bed, brutally stabbed and Sarah was nowhere to be found. The police assumed that she had disappeared, possibly looking to form some sort of insanity defence, but it's only when local reporter Jack Garrett interviews Sarah's parents that a different picture emerges. Why would a loving daughter and a respected school teacher commit murder? Jack's not completely convinced that he's doing the right thing when he begins to search for Sarah.

Jack's girlfriend, Constable Laura McGanity, is desperate that nothing should happen which might put doubt on the stability of their home life. Her ex-husband is fighting for custody of their son and any suggestion that they're unable to provide a safe and settled home for the boy could mean that they would lose Bobby.

As if this wasn't complication enough, Jack discovers that some of the old witchcraft rites which suffuse the history of Pendle Hill and the surrounding area might not be as dead as people had thought. And do the attacks on various local women have anything to do with Sarah's disappearance?

Some news items stay in my mind longer than others and it was the snatching of estate agent Stephanie Slater from a house in Birmingham in 1992 which came vividly back to my mind as I read this book. Slater was imprisoned for eight days in a coffin, repeatedly raped, tortured and threatened by murderer Michael Sams. We're not far into Last Rites before we discover that the same thing is happening to Sarah Goode.

Parts of this book are so tense that I found myself hunched over it, desperate to find out what happened next, but fearful of what it might be. It's the third book in the series starring Garrett and McGanity and Neil White is getting better at ramping up the tension. Don't worry if you haven't read the earlier books in the series (Fallen Idols and Lost Souls) as they're not necessary to follow the plot and there are no spoilers, although you might want to go back and read both! Some characters will be familiar to you and there is an underlying thread through the three books, but don't be over-worried about reading them consecutively.

It's a good plot with some compelling characters. I did wonder if the head of the murder squad was going to be the stereotypical thick and violent copper, but time proved me wrong on that one. I should have had more faith in White, who has a track record of producing good characters.

As in Lost Souls there are some gruesome aspects to the story. In his day job White is a Senior Prosecutor for the Crown Prosecution Service and when I read his books I have the feeling of an author who is writing from experience rather than research, but there's a degree of sensitivity in the telling. I'll confess to not liking this book as much as Lost Souls but that's purely down to a personal dislike of stories involving witchcraft – if I put that aside, I know that Neil White is getting better.

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