M.J. Arlidge likes to start his novels off with a hiss and a roar – Pop Goes the Weasel takes you straight into the fray. No mucking around with niceties will mean you are landed straight into the viewpoint of a creepy individual, prowling the streets for “a common whore” with whom to play out his domination fantasies. The catch is that very soon the tables are turned, and the hunter becomes the hunted, and human hearts start piling up around the place – very bad news for Detective Inspector Helen Grace, who is still just recovering from going head to head with her serial killing sister, in Arlidge’s previous novel Eeny Meeny.
Just like Eeny Meeny, this newest instalment in the DI Grace series has nothing to do with an innocent children’s rhyme, and everything to do with the voracity at which men pursuing illicit love are murdered and dissected by an elusive serial killer. And while you are still struggling with the moral dilemma of whether these victims may in fact “be asking for it”, Arlidge has already quickened the pace and taken you down the entangled web of false leads, and a very dark world where the obvious is never the right answer.
There is no mistaking the fact that Arlidge is an experienced writer and producer for TV, as the narrative is almost tangible in its cinematic-type qualities, maybe with an eye for an easy transition to the screen. Juxtapositions of personal and professional dramas for each of the cops on the case make for some interesting side-plots, although it is still DI Grace who holds centre stage with her somewhat indefinable characterisation. She is gutsy, conflicted and has more than one skeleton in her closet, and when she is not busy riding her motorbike prefers hefty S&M sessions to close friendships, let alone relationships.
Antagonists abound – often in a slightly predictable form – such as the scoop-seeking journalist Emilia Garanita, and the scheming and controlling Detective Intendant Ceri Hardwood, both throwing the necessary spanners into the works of Helen’s increasingly frustrated pursuit of the killer. Arlidge is indeed using a well-known formula, but one which will earn him many fans. So if you like your thrillers to be a fast-paced exploration of the dark side of Southampton – and the dark side of family dramas – with a bold and feisty detective on the case, then Pop Goes the Weasel is exactly the novel for you.