A murdered woman. A missing husband. An impossible crime scene.

The strapline sounded a bit like a locked room mystery, but this is a police procedural with a purpose.

When a wealthy woman is found dead in her locked London mansion by her cleaner, the key questions that arise are: what is the meaning of the 4 objects deliberately posed surrounding her body? Who hated her enough to commit this level of violence? And where is her husband?

Although these questions are addressed, there’s a stronger focus on a series of historic crimes, which resulted in damage to our new heroine, Laughton Rees: this is an introduction to Toyne’s new series, featuring forensic expert Laughton, who was traumatised as a teenager by her mother’s violent death and only ever worked cold cases – until now.

What’s it about?

When DCI Tannahill Khan is rushed to the Miller house to examine the scene of Kate Miller’s brutal murder, he is surprised to find a forensic book positioned by the body that is written by none other than his boss’s estranged daughter.

Make no mistakes: this is what the book is really about; the invisible relationship between Laughton and Commissioner Rees. As a teenager, Laughton blamed her father for not stopping the killer who took her mother’s life. As an adult, she hasn’t moved on from this view and still refuses to interact with him, despite possessing a teenage daughter of her own, which one might expect would give her a better understanding of a parent’s limits.

What’s it like?

This is a very readable account of a murder investigation that, at the last possible moment, adds one twist too many and, to some extent, spoils the preceding narrative.

Although this book is an interesting police procedural in its own right – who were the Millers, really, and how can the murderer be traced – it is at heart an introduction to Laughton Rees, her daughter Gracie, and DCI Tannahill, who, apparently, develops a romantic interest in Laughton because (a) his mum thinks he has and / or (b) because crime novels that are part of a series must by law involve some romantic interest.

Final thoughts

Although it is obvious throughout that the items around the body were chosen primarily to entice Laughton out of her bubble wrap, it is still an unconvincing twist at the end that sets her centre stage and detracts slightly from previous, recent events.

Also, the Gracie storyline felt unnecessary when I initially read it. On reflection, it feels like pure strategy to get certain characters sharing a space together.

But I’m being picky. I enjoyed reading this and think that, final twist aside, it was an enjoyable and engaging read that leaves the reader thinking about various ethical conundrums.

I understand Toyne has recently published the second book in this series and look forward to reading it.

‘Dark Objects’,
Simon Toyne,
2022, paperback, Harper Collins