I have always enjoyed reading crime fiction and thrillers. Taking two different modules in University which examined crime fiction specifically really allowed this interest to solidify. With University now finished, I have been trying to make more of an effort to find new crime novels which have been recently published, look entertaining, yet are still composed of a good standard of writing. Daisy in Chains is one of these books which grabbed my attention.
Daisy in Chains follows Maggie Rose, a lawyer and true crime writer, whose work is fast becoming prolific because of her infamy for overturning convictions of those found guilty of horrific murders and crimes. Maggie is quickly drawn into the case of Hamish Wolfe, a handsome, charismatic doctor who has been convicted for the murder of three, possibly four, women. Wolfe has always claimed his innocence, yet the evidence is completely against him. Naturally, both he and his suffering mother turn to Maggie as their only hope of saving him from a life condemned behind bars. The book seeks to establish not only the true facts of the crimes which have been committed, and whether Hamish could have been wrongly accused, but it also examines Hamish and Maggie as separate individuals, looking at what motivates each character.
I must admit that I find the cover of this book pleasantly striking. With dark tones of black and yellow, and four daisies laying lifelessly against a single swipe of blood red, it certainly strives to encapsulate the genre of the novel. I know that Sharon Wolfe is already quite established and is someone who is eagerly becoming a prolific crime writer, and I have no doubt this book will attract both new readers and those who are already familiar with the tones of her work.
The prologue of the novel is employed to create instant curiosity for the reader. We are presented with a letter, written by the murderer Hamish Wolfe from inside prison. In the letter he is declaring his love and desire for the recipient. Who that is, we do not know, and we are not explicitly told until the novel’s conclusion. The end of the letter is given a reference number, as well as being firmly stated that it is the property of Avon and Somerset Police. Together, this letter aims to convince us of its authenticity, to convince us that this really has taken place. Further letters are studded throughout the rest of the book, as well as the author using various narration devices, including articles, chapters, psychiatric reports and many more. Likewise, these all contribute to give the book an air of authenticity. Because of these factors, in many ways I found this book quite similar to Graeme Macrae Burnet’s His Bloody Project. There too, we have a man already believed guilty of committing multiple murders, and the books also presents itself as a realistic case study. Whilst this book did not reach the literary heights of Burnet’s novel, which I absolutely loved, (review here), it is without a doubt a much more accessible read to someone interesting in similar topics.
Initially, Maggie is extremely reluctant to take Hamish’s case on, and she is uncertain whether or not she believes there is enough to tempt her to become his lawyer. Yet her interest is inevitably piqued, and increases in parallel with our own. Things we hear from Hamish himself, from those who worked on the case, and even the supposed evidence which caught the killer, all contribute to provide an immense curiosity which must be sated. Through Maggie, and her interest, we are given the backstory to the crimes, and the pieces surrounding the events start to come together.
What makes this book interesting is the fact that it is not necessarily a typical ‘who done it’ crime thriller or mystery. For all intents and purposes, the killer is already behind bars, and Maggie cares little whether he is guilty or innocent. Her only care is whether or not she believes she has enough material to be successful in his case. Time and time again, we are given conflicting images of Hamish. He presents himself as an extremely charismatic, handsome and successful man, yet is that not the qualities which enabled him to kill so successfully in the first place? The man has been sentenced for the most deplorable crimes, and yet he spends him time making origami flowers, and wishing his beloved dog could be with him. Being an animal lover myself, this does make you sympathise with Hamish, even if it is against your better judgment, and it does help you hear his pleas of innocence.
Yet that’s not the only interesting thing about Hamish. Whilst the majority of the world views him as a sick, twisted individual who should suffer for his crimes, a shockingly large proportion of women write to Hamish frequently, offering friendship and even love. In one scene, he is sent a topless photo of a young admirer, yet shows no interest, and actually states that ‘if he could be bothered, I’d send it home to her parents’ (p. 169). This is definitely against everything the public seem to belief of a man capable of killing several women. The book questions Hamish’s own character, but also that of the hundreds of women who do not know him, yet write to him so willingly.
Whilst Hamish is an obvious character to become fascinated with, Maggie is equally as mysterious. From the start we are instantly aware that she is hiding something. We do not know what, but we certainly know something is being carefully concealed. In many ways, this actually took away from my intrigue surrounding Hamish, and I grew more interesting in the figure of Maggie as a young woman purposefully saving the lives of convicted criminals.
One of the issues I had with the novel was the fact that Maggie and Pete (an officer involved in bringing Hamish to justice) develop a relationship extremely quickly. It is not necessarily a romantic one, but they seem to fall easily into each others lives in an unrealistic way. With hindsight, I can probably now see why this may have been, but I am still not one hundred percent convinced. Additionally, whilst there are various smokescreens which I will agree are cleverly executed, I did catch some of the twists beforehand. I would say there are three major twists within the plot, and whilst I do not want to give anything away, you will realise that some are more identifiable than others., and that deception is a key element in this book.
What I will say for Sharon Bolton, is that she can write. I feel that crime fiction has a bit of a stereotype as being an easy read with fairly basic writing. Whilst this book was an easy read (because I enjoyed it), it is also a book which helps to dispel this image surrounding thrillers. A passage that I particularly enjoyed and struck me as executed with skill, read as thus:
‘In spring, he can almost smell the world waking up; the rich sweetness of the soil as the worm churns it, as the buried bulbs send up their shoots. In the summer months, when the wind races across the levels, it brings with it the bitter tang of the ocean. In autumn, the trees of the nearby forest give off their own scent, a muskiness that reminds him of the scent of his ex-wife’s hair.’ (p. 66).
As you can hopefully tell, Bolton seems to have a firm grasp on both the vocabulary and the tone in which she employs her craft. Additionally, every bit of speech she uses seems authentic and true to real life, a skill which is often overlooked.
I enjoyed this book. It was not groundbreaking or ridiculously inspiring, but it was a solid, well written read which I flew through. I would recommend this novel if you enjoy crime and thrillers, but do not want a book drowning in the gore of blood. Whilst I do think the reasons behind the killings are not necessarily the most plausible, and I would really have loved more of a look at the psychology of the characters, I really did enjoy it, and will hope to pick up more of Sharon Bolton’s backcatalogue in the future.