Reviewed by Craig Sisterson
Dawn Prentice was already known to the Peterborough Hate Crimes Unit. The previous summer she had logged a number of calls detailing the harassment she and her severely disabled teenage daughter were undergoing. Now she is dead—stabbed to death while Holly Prentice has been left to starve upstairs.
DS Ferreira, only recently back serving on the force after being severely injured in the line of duty, had met with Dawn that summer. Was she negligent in not taking Dawn’s accusations more seriously? Did the murderer even know that Holly was helpless upstairs while her mother bled to death
While Ferreira battles her demons, determined to prove she’s up to the frontline, DI Zigic is drawn into conflict with an official seemingly resolved to hide the truth about one of his main suspects. Can either officer unpick the truth about mother and daughter, and bring their killer to justice?
This was the first of Dolan's acclaimed Zigic and Ferreira series that I'd read, and it has well and truly ensured I put her backlist and whatever books are to come on my 'absolutely-must-read list'. AFTER YOU DIE is a very fine crime novel, a British police procedural with so much more than good helpings of police and procedure. Not that I should be surprised - Dolan won the CWA Debut Dagger as a teenager, and her novels have been listed for the Theakstons and Gold Dagger awards.
AFTER YOU DIE is kick-started by a horrible crime in Peterborough that's a double-tragedy. A struggling mother who'd been harassed about her disabled daughter is found dead. Even worse, her daughter, marooned upstairs without a carer, has starved to death too. It’s a crime that understandably shakes Ferreira, Zigic, and their police colleagues. Worse for DS Ferreira, who’s scrabbling to get back to her old form – physically, mentally, and emotionally – after returning from a bad injury, she’d spoken to the victim about the earlier harassment. Could she have done more? What did she miss? As she tries to fight the doubts that she thinks others must have about her return, the doubts she tries to deny or silence in herself, how will she cope?
Dolan does a great job in evoking plenty of emotion in her characters, and the reader, without it becoming melodrama. The events and reactions in AFTER YOU DIE all read very authentic, very human and real, not forced or done for effect. Dolan has a great touch for infusing her writing with substance as well as style, and making you care, making you feel, while keeping the pages easily turning.
Even if, like me, you come to this third book in the series first, the characters and their personalities, troubles, and choices draw you in. They’re fully rounded people, flawed but understandable. I imagine that if you’ve been following DI Zigic and DS Ferreira since the beginning, you might appreciate the character development in AFTER YOU DIE even more. The two main characters face some challenges and tough obstacles in the case itself, and their wider lives. Witnessing how they handle this gives us a greater insight into who they are as people.
Overall, AFTER YOU DIE is a terrific crime novel, with a strong narrative drive, freshness in the prose, and good characters that keep you intrigued beyond how they go about solving the horrible crime they’re faced with. Strongly recommended.
Craig Sisterson is a lapsed lawyer who writes features for leading magazines and newspapers in several countries. He has interviewed more than 180 crime writers, discussed crime writing onstage at arts and literary festivals in Europe and Australasia, on national radio, has been a judge of the Ned Kelly Awards, and is the Judging Convenor of the Ngaio Marsh Awards. You can follow him on Twitter: @craigsisterson