Dead Woman Walking, by Sharon Bolton

>> Monday, February 04, 2019

TITLE: Dead Woman Walking
AUTHOR: Sharon Bolton

PAGES: 368
PUBLISHER: Transworld Digital

SETTING: Contemporary UK
TYPE: Mystery/Thriller

Just before dawn in the hills near the Scottish border, a man murders a young woman. At the same time, a hot-air balloon crashes out of the sky. There’s just one survivor. She’s seen the killer’s face – but he’s also seen hers. And he won’t rest until he’s eliminated the only witness to his crime. Alone, scared, trusting no one, she’s running to where she feels safe – but it could be the most dangerous place of all...
The opening of Dead Woman Walking is absolutely fantastic. A group of people are doing a sight-seeing tour on a hot-air balloon, enjoying the beautiful Northumberland landscape. At one point, when they've come down relatively close to the ground, they see a murder take place. Hot-air balloons are silent things, and the murderer only notices them after the act. Realising his face can be seen clearly from the balloon, he shoots at them. Panic ensues, and the balloon crashes soon thereafter. Our protagonist, Jessica, is one of the few survivors, and manages to get away before the murderer arrives to ensure there are no survivors. We then follow the investigation and follow both Jessica and the murderer as he chases her.

As I said, the opening is excellently done. It's dramatic and fast-paced, and written in such a way that chaotic events feel clear. After that, however, I felt things disintegrated rapidly.

For starters, I felt Bolton was holding back too much. She's clearly withholding facts to increase the drama of future twists (it's pretty obvious there are a lot of those coming!), but to me, she gets the balance wrong. I didn't know enough to care about Jessica and about her relationship with her sister, which is revealed in frequent flashbacks. I didn't know who she was as a person, I didn't know what she knew or remembered after the clash, I didn't know what she was trying to do. Reading the scenes about her was frustrating and annoying.

The book also seemed to feature two of my least favourite plot devices: the villains who manage to track their prey so incredibly well it's almost supernatural, and spending time with a group of completely amoral people. The murderer is part of a crime family, and every single one of them seems to take murder and mayhem with absolute equanimity. I did not want to spend a second more with these people.

And to make matters even worse, the crime family turned out to be Scottish Travellers, and Bolton seemed to delight in all the stereotypes. They live in caravans outside a manor, which they've trashed and where they're running their criminal enterprise, they sit around a campfire in cheap camping chairs, seats ripped out from cars and even overturned car tyres. It made me very uncomfortable.

I read about 40% of the book and gave up. Out of curiosity, I looked up spoilers for the plot twists, and a couple of those would have definitely pissed me off, so I'm glad I stopped where I did.

I loved one of Bolton's recent stand-alone novels (Little Black Lies), but this did not even feel like the same author.



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