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In Bitter Chill by Sarah Ward

In Bitter Chill is the debut novel by Sarah Ward; it's the first book in the DC Connie Childs series.  I didn't realize this was the start of a series when I started reading it.  Just as when I read and finished The Dry by Jane Harper, I didn't realize that too was the start of a series.  I'm not sure how I feel about starting more book series.  But then the book series that I followed, I haven't been reading anyway, so maybe it's time for some new book series.  This series is set in Derbyshire, England.  And while the prologue didn't really grab me, once I read the first couple chapters, I was sucked in.

While there is a mystery in the present day story, it's very much tied to an unsolved kidnap from 1978.  The present day chapters are sparsely intercut with chapters that flash back to 1978.  Were it not for the kidnap case in 1978, there wouldn't be a present day mystery to solve.

In 1978 when Sophie Jenkins and Rachel Jones are kidnapped one morning by a mysterious woman, only Rachel escapes the nearby woods alive in a drugged daze.  She has no idea how they got to the woods, and she doesn't know what happened to Sophie in those woods.  Due to a drug induced amnesia, Rachel is missing a large chunk of time from that day immediately preceding her escape; it's a crime that remains unsolved.

In the present day when Sophie's mother is found dead of an apparent suicide in the room of a local hotel, DI Francis Sadler and his two person team, DS Palmer and DC Connie Childs, are tasked with the long overdue review of the still unsolved kidnap from 1978.  Their objective is to ascertain whether there is a connection between the suicide and the unsolved kidnap.  Why did Yvonne, Sophie's mother, choose suicide now nearly 40 years on?

Unfortunately the review is halted when the dead body, that of a teacher called Penny Lander from Rachel and Sophie's school, turns up in a shallow grave in the same woods that swallowed both girls that day.  An apparent homicide, this makes two dead bodies with connections to the girls who were kidnapped.  Sadler and Childs abide by the rule that in police work there is no such thing as a coincidence.  Childs uses instinct and tuition to suss out information, and her instincts say they're missing something or someone important in this case.

Nowadays Rachel Jones makes a living as a professional genealogist and local history lecturer.  She uses research to piece together family lines and illuminate family secrets.  But what secrets does her own family hide?  As both the police and Rachel start digging into the past, family secrets hidden by subsequent generations of Jones women are uncovered.  But how do they relate to the events of 1978?  And how does it connect to the research that Penny Lander was doing in the weeks before her death and that had her so spooked?  This is a gripping, engrossing, suspenseful, page turner of a mystery.

--Reviewed by Ms. Angie

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