Splinter in the Blood

Britain has an interesting duo of mystery writers, Margaret Murphy and Helen Pepper, who have written their debut story, “Splinter in the Blood” under the pen name, Ashley Dyer. (William Morrow, 388 pages)

The women of Liverpool are being terrorized by a serial killer known as the Thorn Killer, who kidnaps women and marks their bodies with intricate tattoos using toxic ink delivered through pricking the victim’s skin with thorns dipped in poisons.

Detective Greg Carver is obsessed with finding the Thorn Killer. The case, and his failed marriage, are taking their on the hard-drinking detective.

The story begins with Carver’s partner, Detective Sergeant Ruth Lake, finding him in his home, slumped in a chair, shot in the chest.

But instead of calling emergency services immediately, D.S. Lake grabs the gun found near Carver and his case files pertaining to the Thorn Killer and proceeds to clean the scene up before she calls the police.

In addition to a near mortal gunshot wound, Greg Carver had sustained a severe concussion which has scrambled his memories, leaving him with vague impressions of that fateful night in which he almost died.

When Carver’s lover is found dead, suspicion points towards the detective in what may have been a murder/attempted suicide.

The suspense is heightened as the Thorn Killer’s taunting of the police escalates, leading to the tried and true formula of whether they can reach the victim in time, a plot move which does not disappoint in this well-crafted psychological crime novel.

The team of Margaret Murphy (past chair of the Crime Writers Association) and Helen Pepper (forensic science) deliver a story with an ingenious means of killing and some fascinating, though macabre, tidbits regarding common plants.

Mystery readers who love a good dose of forensic science blended into an old fashioned thriller may want to take a stab at Ashley Dyer’s clever crime novel.