‘The Devil’s Dice’ is a gripping thriller which has been given the ‘supernatural’ tagline. Why it certainly has a sense of the Gothic about it, thankfully Watkins doesn’t allow a ghostly spectre to give Meg Dalton vital clues. What Watkins does best is use myths and legends that surround this case to bring to it a sense of the macabre without being fanciful.
Witches are definitely in with crime fiction these days, (read the brilliant Cathi Unsworth and Syd Moore if witches are your poison), and Watkins neatly fits in with this esteemed company. Here, folklore is mixed with Greek myth and legend, making Meg Dalton’s first case out of the ordinary. I am not sure what is legend and what has come from Watkins' imagination, but Watkins drops in these enticing morsels to drive her plot, and her reader on to her astounding and heart thumping conclusion.
Meg Dalton is one of those wonderful detectives you immediately like, but know that despite the bumbling exterior, (I found myself seeing her as a female version of Columbo…), that Meg, like that other great creation, does not miss a trick. She knows who is lying and who has something to hide. It is just convincing others that she is on the right track, even if it means putting herself in danger as Meg does get battered during this book. Meg is not without her own demons, but this perfectly ties in with the case, especially when halfway through she is dealt a blow that puts her and her job in jeopardy, while at the same time allowing her to confront the demon that has been torturing her for years. Again, as with the Author of the Month, Ed James, here we have Watkins producing a spellbinding plot, while at the same time allowing her story to have a pulsing heart with private dramas played out alongside a series of murders. In the end, both strands come down to families keeping secrets.
This is a superb and strong debut and I look forward to Meg’s next case, with her battered raincoat and dishevelled look. A great, atmospheric debut.