In Coniston in England’s Lake District local newspaper journalist Tony di Venuto starts a campaign to re-open the investigation into the disappearance of a young woman, Emma Bestwick, ten years earlier. At the same time a man who knows what happened to her returns to the area and decides to tip off the journalist. This provides enough information for DCI Hannah Scarlett, head of the Cumbria’s Cold Case Review Team, to take another look at the case.
Perhaps it’s because the audio books happen to be narrated by the same person but this book reminded me of the Shetland novels by Ann Cleeves that I’ve read. They have the same wonderful sense of place and combination of solid procedural storyline with fascinating local colour and historical details. In this novel the procedural elements of the story are deftly handled as, without much in the way of forensic evidence, Hannah and her team rely on their interviewing skills and a little bit of luck as they talk to all the people who knew Emma prior to her disappearance. It becomes clear for example that Emma came into a sizable sum of money but she told her sister it was a lottery win and others the money was an inheritance so the squad have to determine the real source of the money and whether or not it had anything to do with the disappearance.
They must also delve into local history which includes a something of a feud between two families, the Cloughs and the Inchmores, which has had a significant impact on the area over time. It was an Inchmore who was responsible for the now abandoned arsenic mines that turn out to be such a crucial location for this story while what remains of the Clough family are now in charge of the quirky Museum of Myth and Legend which also proves instrumental to the plot.
Hannah once again meets up with Daniel Kind, a historian and the son of Hannah’s mentor when she first joined the police force. Daniel’s research into local historical figure John Ruskin eventually provides an important link to part of the investigation. Their obvious attraction to each other, despite being in relationships with other people, is handled interestingly because it’s not simply a case of leaping into each other’s pants because they fancy doing so. I also enjoyed the depiction of Guy, the man who knows what happened to Emma, who is a serial seducer of women for their money. He’s a nasty piece of work to be sure but a compelling character.
All in all The Arsenic Labyrinth is an above average example of the genre. It is well-paced, particularly in the second half, has several satisfyingly unexpected twists and Edwards has generated genuine interest in finding out all the villager’s hidden secrets even if they end up having little to do with the overall mystery. I’m also impressed that the book can be easily read and enjoyed without having read the previous books in the series (I have read the first book but not the second) (yet).
What about the audio book?
Gordon Griffin is fast becoming one of my favourite narrators (he has also narrated the two Ann Cleeves books I’ve listened to). His style and voice are well suited to the art of story telling and I can highly recommend this narration.
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The Arsenic Labyrinth is the third book in Martin Edwards Lake District Mystery series and has also been reviewed at Euro Crime (by Karen) and Euro Crime (by Maxine) as well as at Mysteries in Paradise
Martin Edwards blogs about crime fiction and writing at Do You Write Under Your Own Name?
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My rating 4/5
Narrator Gordon Griffin
Publisher ISIS Audio Books 
ISBN N/A (downloaded from audible.com)
Length 10 hours 26 minutes
Source I bought it