Sarah Ward

In Bitter Chill

"' astonishingly assured debut novel.'"


In 1978 two girls were abducted: one managed to escape but one simply disappeared. Thirty years later the mother of the missing girl is found dead in a hotel room, apparently a suicide. The surviving girl, Rachel Jones, has lived with the mystery most of her life, but the death of her friend's mother stirs her to find the truth and lay to rest her ghosts and feelings of guilt.

The death of Yvonne Jenkins also provokes the police to pay more attention to the investigation into the disappearance of Sophie Jenkins, an investigation never closed but hardly active. Rivalry between Detective Constable Connie Childs and Detective Sergeant Damien Palmer for success and the approval of Detective Inspector Francis Sadler adds impetus to the investigation.

The winter chill of Derbyshire echoes the frozen life of Yvonne Jenkins after the disappearance of her eight year old daughter. Rachel Jones's life has also been on hold for many years.

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When Sarah Ward asked me to read the early version of her book with a critical and honest eye I was both thrilled and apprehensive. It is an honour to read someone's hard wrought lines, but what if I didn't like it? I needn't have worried. I started off, notebook at the ready, prepared to be a critical friend, but not long into the book I was so engrossed in the story that I forgot the criticism and just enjoyed the novel. This book is an exciting and absorbing story that investigates the troubling aftermath of every parent's nightmare, a missing child. Thirty years after the abduction of two children and the permanent disappearance of one of them, the tendrils of the agony and pain live on. The chilly beauty of a Derbyshire winter underlines the frozen characters of those touched by the tragedy. Yvonne Jenkins, mother of the missing girl, has never recovered from it. Rachel Jones, the survivor is coping but only slowly coming back to the warmth. Even the policeman, who as a young constable was involved in the investigation, cannot forget the frustration of not finding Sophie. The psychological impact of the events are beautifully understood and portrayed with delicate sensitivity. The police team are an interesting crew with their own interactions and motivations which drive the story. The rivalry between Connie and Damien Palmer is lightly touched upon but I think could easily develop in future books. This is a very accomplished first novel, with hints of Peter Robinson and Ann Cleeves. This is an astonishingly assured debut novel.

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