DS Narey vows to solve her father’s last case, a woman’s battered body left near the ruins of an old abbey on an island in the middle of a lake, discovered when caretakers rowed out to open up the abbey ready for the summer tourists. She’d been killed during the winter, her skull damaged and dental records drawing a blank. All detective Alan Narey could establish was that she was blonde, probably fair-skinned and didn’t match any missing persons reports in the Strathclyde area. Local gossip suggested a connection with the community of travellers who were nearby at the time, but this was never substantiated. Without identifying the victim, finding the killer proved impossible.
He had a hunch, however, that Laurence Paton, a teacher, was somehow involved but could never find any evidence to tie him to the crime. Now suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and in a care home, the case haunts him and his daughter is prepared to go out on a limb to get the closure her father needs.
Shortly after she unofficially opens the case, DS Narey learns that Laurence Paton has died after apparently falling off a ladder. With help of police photographer Tony Winter and his uncle, a retired police officer, who gain access to Paton’s computer, Narey learns Paton was being blackmailed and he wasn’t the only one. Checking email addresses against fellow students at Paton’s teacher training college, where he was at the time of the murder, allow them to identify the three others targeted by the blackmailer. Paton was receiving counselling for insomnia, nightmares and a generalised anxiety. Following that lead, Narey discovers the counsellor had bought his qualifications from a distance learning college and is living beyond his means. Two of Paton’s three associates are still in the teaching profession and one dropped out and joined the travelling community.
Narey’s main problem is the same one her father encountered: without identifying the victim, she still has no evidence linking the four teaching students with the crime and can’t identify if all four were involved or just one. She gets a lucky break, her superior agrees to help her apply to get the victim’s body exhumed so that an expert at a local university can attempt to create a three dimensional model of what the victim looked like using technology that wasn’t available to her father.
Finally it looks as if the cold case is beginning to thaw. But after a second of the four associates is killed in an apparent suicide attempt, can Narey and Winter identify the culprit and the blackmailer before there are any more deaths?
Narey risks losing both her job and credibility. She makes mistakes as her motivation is emotional: her need to provide closure for her father outweighing a need to pass on information and seek cooperation from colleagues, putting one in particular, in danger. But Craig Robertson resists temptation to make her a complete maverick. Narey still follows police procedures and the case is solved through solid, plodding detective work, which is not allowed to hold up the plot.
Tony Winter is a useful main character, his position as a civilian police photographer, means he has insight into the methods and skills of the police whilst also remaining an outsider, giving him more freedom than a policeman would have. It’s his photographer’s eye for details that enables him to solve the final clue, confirming the victim’s identity and linking her to her killer.
The underlying issue in “Cold Grave” is family, both in the immediate sense of parent and child and it the wider sense of belonging to a group, for example the police. Family bonds can be too loose with tragic consequences, for example the victim was a runaway. Or too tight with fatal consequences, the travelling communities’ natural inclination not to cooperate beyond necessity with the police, leads to murder. A desire to reign in and protect can come from pure or murderous intentions.
“Cold Grave” can be read two ways, as a police procedural thriller, or as a story that asks readers about their own lives. A cold case that could have been solved with icy efficiency is warmed to life by acutely observed characters and relationships.
By Emma Lee