The Curator by M W Craven – review

Published by Constable

Publication date – 4 June 2020

Source – review copy

It’s Christmas and a serial killer is leaving displayed body parts all over Cumbria. A strange message is left at each scene: #BSC6

Called in to investigate, the National Crime Agency’s Washington Poe and Tilly Bradshaw are faced with a case that makes no sense. Why were some victims anaesthetized, while others died in appalling agony? Why is their only suspect denying what they can irrefutably prove but admitting to things they weren’t even aware of? And why did the victims all take the same two weeks off work three years earlier?

And when a disgraced FBI agent gets in touch things take an even darker turn. Because she doesn’t think Poe is dealing with a serial killer at all; she thinks he’s dealing with someone far, far worse – a man who calls himself the Curator.

And nothing will ever be the same again . . .

A proposal goes drastically wrong when a woman opens a present to find two severed fingers instead of a ring. When two more sets of fingers are found and tests confirm the victims were alive when the digits were removed, Washington Poe and Tilly Bradshaw realise they may have a serial killer on their hands. But when Poe receives a call from the FBI he soon finds out the reality may be much worse.

The area around Shap Fell in Cumbria is fast becoming a Midsommer village or Cabot Cove. Murderers abound and locals will probably start contributing to a Washington Poe relocation package. The Curator opens with Poe in his most unusual and uncomfortable predicament yet. He’s at a baby shower for his boss DI Stephanie Flynn. They are called away and back up to Cumbria when the fingers are found and it appears that a serial killer is on the loose.

The story is, as readers have come to expect, a dark tale, with gruesome murder techniques and the dark web lit up for the reader to see. As the team follow the clues they become worried that a version of the Blue Whale challenge has taken hold in Cumbria. Instead of acts of self harm, leading to the game master persuading participants to commit suicide, the players are encouraged to commit bigger and bigger crimes, with the final challenge being murder. The book sheds light on the terrible ways in which the internet can be used to manipulate vulnerable people.

The story progresses at a fair pace, though doesn’t feel rushed. The denouement was one I had anticipated. Whilst that didn’t detract from my enjoyment, and whilst many readers will love the final pages, I have to admit I did wish it could have perhaps ended slightly differently. I obviously can’t say more as that would ruin the whole thing.

The mix of tragedy at the deaths of the victims and the dark humour of Poe (and inadvertently Tilly), are the perfect balance.

Speaking of Poe and Tilly, they are on fine form as usual. The relationship has cemented between the two. The reader could be lead to believe that not much more can be revealed about the characters but that isn’t the case. Tilly shows a more vulnerable side, whilst Poe reveals he has the capability of being darker than he has already shown.

Poe’s boss, Stephanie, although being heavily pregnant, is determined to hold on to her role until the end, there to smooth the waters that Poe has troubled.

Reading  a Poe and Bradshaw book is like being welcomed back to a slightly disfunctional and macbre family, but one that it is a pleasure to return to.

I look forward another family reunion soon.

About the author

M. W. Craven was born in Carlisle but grew up in Newcastle, returning after 31 years to take up a probation officer position in Whitehaven, eventually working his way up to chief officer grade. Sixteen years later he took the plunge, accepted redundancy and became a full-time author. He now has entirely different motivations for trying to get inside the minds of criminals. His first novel featuring Washington Poe and Tilly Bradshaw, The Puppet Show, was published by Constable to huge acclaim, and it has since won the CWA Gold Dagger Award and been shortlisted for the Amazon Publishing Readers’ Awards: Best Crime Novel, the Goldsboro Glass Bell Award and the Dead Good Reader Awards. M. W. Craven lives in Carlisle with his wife, Joanne. When he isn’t out with his springer spaniel, or talking nonsense in the pub, he can usually be found at punk gigs and writing festivals up and down the country.

The Curator was book 1 in my 20 Books  of Summer Challenge.


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