The Winter Foundlings by Kate Rhodes

Over the course of just three novels Kate Rhodes has grown into a top-flight crime writer.

She creates characters, situations, stories that are utterly, sometimes horribly believable, and she writes so very well that it is impossible not to be pulled in and held from the first page of the story to the last.

21061003Dr Alice Quentin is a Forensic Psychologist at Guys Hospital in London, but as the story opens she is beginning a six month secondment to Northwood high security hospital, looking in to the care and mental health treatment of some of Britain’s most damaged, most dangerous. criminals.

That was an interesting change, allowing the ongoing story to move into the background, and allowing Alice to be seen clearly in the foreground as capable and compassionate professional woman.

DCI Don Burns contacted Alice, asking that she interview one of Northwood’s patients. Louis Kinsella was Britain’s most prolific, most terrible, serial murderer of children; and there had been more murderers bearing his hallmarks.

Louis Kinsella had been a headmaster, a charity trustee, a pillar of the community. Now he rarely spoke, though he would occasionally deign to communicate by handwritten note, and he had driven one therapist who had worked with hom to a breakdown. He wrote Alice a note, and she was sure that he knew, that he may have been controlling, the recent murders.

He had no contact with the outside world, and so Alice believed that he must have been using, manipulating, somebody from the hospital staff who came into contact with him. But who ….

Alice had wanted a break from her London life and from her work with the police, but she knew that she had to go back. The psychologist attached to the case, Professor Alan Nash, didn’t like that. He had friends in high places, he wanted all of the glory, and he did everything to undermine her. There had been significant changes in DCI Burns’ team since Alice last worked with them too.

Louis Kinsella had been a trustee of The Foundling Museum, and Alice was sure that was significant. She just couldn’t work out how ….

This story is clearly underpinned by detailed research. The practical arrangements in the high-security hospital seemed credible; the different approaches of the staff to their work, the ways they lived and the ways that they coped rang true. That was fascinating.

And I loved learning about The Foundlings Hospital. Kate Rhodes teaches me something new about London with every book, and it is clear that she loves that city that she brings to life on the page.

Kate Rhode’s has written a stunningly brilliant thriller in The Winter Foundlings a psychological thriller at its best. This is a fast paced evocative read that draws you in and holds your attention all the way through to the end. This is a thriller you just do not want to put down it is so well written you just do not want the book to end.

Every element of the plot worked. Alice’s relationships with her mother, her brother and her best fried were touched on; things evolved a little, and shed more light on her character, without the slightest hint of contrivance. Professor Alan Nash reminded me of a certain colleague, and I definitely understood his psychology. Alice’s interviews with Louis Kinsella were chilling, and, though I was willing her on, I feared for her. DCI Burns’ new number two added interest, and I’d love to see her working with Alice again. The interludes with the child who was snatched and held by the killer were very well done, with great subtlety and great clarity.

And there are more things – some many details, all so very well drawn – but I can’t list everything.

They all came together to make a compelling and utterly credible story. The suspense was sustained beautifully, and suspicion fell in many different directions. The writing was so very clever, and I changed my mind so many times.

Just before the end there was a striking, a quite unexpected twist. And the resolution was unexpected, but entirely right.

I shall be surprised if I read a better piece of contemporary crime fiction this year. And I am already anxious to read Kate Rhodes’ next book.

Crossbones Yard by Kate Rhodes

I’m wary of dark crime fiction, preferring to read just a handful of authors I know I can trust, but Alex’s words of praise made me think I might have found another name to add to my list. Now that I have read her first novel, ‘Crossbones Yard’, I can say that I have.

There are many elements that are familiar in this book, but the quality of the writing was such that I didn’t mind. It made the characters, their worlds, their situations lived and breathed. And, as this is the first book in a series, and a first crime novel by the author, I see great potential for future books.

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The central character, Alice Quentin, is rather like so many other women at the centre of crime fiction series; highly capable in her professional life but rather less capable in her personal life. But she is much better drawn, much more credible, than most – if not all – of the others. She’s a psychologist, and she is clearly driven, she clearly works hard, and so she has done well. Particularly since she didn’t have the best of starts in life. Her father was abusive; he tyrannised his family. Now he has died, Alice’s relationship with her mother is strained, and her relationship with her mentally ill brother, who she desperately wants to help and support, is strained. She holds people at a distance, and her relationships with men tend to be short term; but she is a loyal friend. And at night she runs. Coping strategies maybe, but she was coping with life not just with her past. As we all do. The point I’m trying to make is that there was cause and effect, that there was depth, that the psychology rang true, and that Alice was a credible, believable character.

Alice asked by the police to assess Maurice Cley – a known associate of Ray and Marie Benson, who had been convicted for murdering thirteen young women at the London hostel they ran – as he was due to be released from prison. Her assessment was that Maurice wasn’t likely to reoffend, but soon there was another murder bearing all of the Bensons’ trademarks – including some that had never been made public. And it became clear that Alice was at risk …..

The story had many familiar elements, and the Benson case was clearly inspired by the case of Fred and Rosemary West, but the story played out well enough. What brought it to life though, was Alice’s story. She ended one relationship and began another – with a policeman. She was putting up an actress friend. She was deeply concerned about her brother, who had parked his van nearby, and she feared that he might have seen things or done things.

It was a wonderful human story, and it was clear that Kate Rhodes really understood her characters and difficult mental heath issues. The psychology was pitch perfect, and her view was clear and unflinching. And I see so much potential here for a series.

Alice did, to some degree, place herself at risk. But I did understand that she wanted – needed – to keep running, to stick to her usual routine. And I realised, near the end, when she paid the price, that what she did that night she did in the heat of the moment, without thinking it through. She wouldn’t be the first, and she definitely wouldn’t be the last.

That set up a dramatic conclusion. It felt inevitable, and I had identified the killer correctly, but it was the sort of book that made that not matter. I was caught up in Alice’s story, in an excellent psychological drama.

And I must praise the writing – Kate Rhodes uses words very, very well, and she has the rare and wonderful gifts of being able to load a sentence with meaning and be subtle at the same time. That quality of writing, and fine creation and understanding of character and relationships, are more than good enough for me to want to keep reading her books.