A Matter of Time by Claire Askew – review

Published by Hodder & Stoughton

Publication date – 10 March 2022

Source – review copy

At 8am the first shots are fired.

At 1pm, the police establish the gunman has a hostage.

By 5pm, a siege is underway.

At 9pm, DI Helen Birch walks, alone and unarmed, into an abandoned Borders farmhouse to negotiate with the killer.

DI Helen Birch has the morning off work. After visiting her brother Charlie in prison, she plans a quiet day at the station followed by dinner with her partner, Anjan. Those plans are shattered when a gun man starts to shoot at a farm show. It soon becomes apparent he has a hostage and will only speak to Birch. She soon finds herself staring down the barrel of a shotgun, unarmed and alone with a killer.

The story is written over 24 hours, each chapter focusing on one of those hours. This no doubt helps the fast pace set by the narrative, as the scenes shift between the gunman and the police. There are shorter chapters interspersed with longer ones which also maintains the pace.

The story is engaging. The reader knows who the perpetrator is but doesn’t know why he has caused the events that lead to him being surrounded by armed officers. As the pages turn the reader finds out more about events from the past that have led to the shooting. The reader is pulled along as the frantic hours pass by. The scenes are vividly portrayed. I could easily imagine the remote area where the hostage scene takes place, see the disapproving women making drinks for the police, see armed officers wandering the perimeter they had created and almost hear the whir of the police helicopters hovering overhead.

There is very much a closed room feel to the novel. The cast of characters are limited and the main focus of the narrative is on Helen and the gunman, Gerry. There is also time for introspection from Helen, for her to assess her relationships with Charlie, Anjan and her father Jamieson.

This is the fourth book in the Helen Birch series but can be read as a standalone. Yes, there are references to the cases in the previous books but nothing to spoil the enjoyment of reading those, which I plan to do very soon.


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