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Jessica Daniels has recently been promoted from Detective Constable to Detective Sergeant. Unfortunately, this promotion is bittersweet since it arose from her mentor and partner Harry getting stabbed in a bar fight and when she becomes the lead on a mysterious new murder case she finds herself in unchartered territory. A woman is found brutally garrotted in her home having been left there for several days, but the weirdest thing is the house is all locked up and the only available key is still inside the house. When a second, seemingly unconnected victim turns up dead in similar circumstances it appears there could be a serial killer on the loose, dubbed the "Houdini Strangler" by the ever hounding media. With a leak from the inside that allows a pesky journalist to know more about the case than Jessica and all leads soon ending up as a dead end, Jessica's department is soon under intense pressure from the public and media to solve this case with her at the forefront - can Jessica find a breakthrough in this case before any more brutal murders occur whilst also dealing with the media leak and testifying in Harry's trial or will she sink under all the forces conspiring against her?
"Locked In" is the self-published debut novel from up and coming crime writer Kerry Wilkinson for whom the Daily Express have given the glowing recommendation that he is "THE hottest new author in Britain". After a few rejections from several publishers, Wilkinson just decided to publish through Kindle and Lulu (iTunes) and hey presto, in less than a month this story was ranked within the top 80 in the Kindle charts for the whole of Amazon UK and at No. 14 for the thriller chart plus No. 8 and No.4 for the respective iTunes charts. A great advert for any wannabe writers out there that it is possible to go it alone. Most crime books I read are usually from America, so I do enjoy it when I come across a good one set in England as in some ways they are much easier to relate to and there can be no complaints with "Locked In" since the police operations and hierarchy are much more familiar.
The premise is a good one with a green and untested DS taking on your less than typical murder case shrouded in smoke and mirrors that will require sharp detective skills to crack the case and some serious thinking outside the box. Placing Jessica in what could be described as the underdog role works brilliantly as you find yourself empathising with her along the whole journey and rooting for her all the way as she is hit by constant setbacks, and Wilkinson here has characterised her perfectly as the slightly flawed, self-doubting but compelling heroine. He has created a multi-dimensional character by spending a good deal of time developing her relationships with her best friend Caroline, and her work colleagues which is a great source of humour with their dark humoured bantering and all gives great insight into her character.
But thankfully the time spent on character development is balanced nicely with the actual crimes themselves so you don't feel that one is given precedence over the other which can sometimes be a problem in crime novels where that balance can be skewed too much in favour of one or the other. The murders themselves are grizzly by nature, but certainly not too graphic to really disturb anyone, but have enough emotional consequences for the families left behind to create a real impact and again make you want Jessica to succeed even more. The simply, yet clever device of making the murderer's entrance and escape at each murder scene seemingly impossible adds a whole extra level of intrigue to the story beyond that of the who and why which keeps you all the more interested in the how which is a great additional hook.
The story is also incredibly readable, written mostly from Jessica's perspective, but in the third person allowing the author to change to perspectives of other characters when necessary to push the plot along. It is well written, with a subtly humorous style as I mentioned before, with a great source of humour from the dialogue between Jessica and other characters where she shows off her sardonic sense of humour with her often tongue-in-cheek and cutting remarks aimed at sending up her colleagues and also that problematic journalist. The fact it is also mostly from Jessica's point of view means we also get a great insight into the day to day operations of detectives on the police force. Having never worked for them I can obviously not say how realistic this actually is, but seeing how a taskforce is met with internal (department statistics) and external pressures (public and media) pushing for instant success shows how unfairly the police are often condemned as inept when they cannot solve a case.
The pace of the story was very good, with murders coming at just the right time to keep the story spicy and the general intensity levels gradually increasing until a fairly explosive climax at the end and this story was very successful at keeping you gripped all the way through. It was quite a busy story with lots of subplots but they were intertwined and managed expertly to allow the plot stream to flow smoothly and uninterrupted. Also, there were plenty of red herrings and dead ends to keep the mystery alive, as well as some unexpected plot twists that were hard to see coming, and in my albeit non-expert opinion weren't even possible to predict until the story was actually nearing the climax which for me was a real plus as there is nothing worse than guessing the murderer by page 10 of a book. I, for one, was completely fooled by the identity of the murderer, but then again I'm no Miss Marple, though more seasoned crime thriller readers may well best me on this one and solve the case effortlessly. Overall I was very satisfied come the ending, I felt the story was very tight and well thought out and I didn't notice any glaring plot holes or anything to disrupt the continuity of the story and there were certainly no loose ends left dangling.
So, as debut novels go, "Locked In" is pretty darn good and there is very little to fault with it. The essential elements are in place with having a likeable and fascinating lead character with lots of depth to allow the story to revolve around them, as well as having a clever and twisting plot involving the necessary grizzly crimes that are almost a given in any crime thriller and for me, with how strong the character of Jessica Daniels is this could be the start of a brilliant new crime series. If you enjoy "Locked In", there is the follow up sequel "Vigilante" available now which certainly suggest this is indeed the author's aim. I have already bought this novel, and I hope that attests to how much I enjoyed "Locked In". I would thoroughly recommend it to crime thriller fans.