The Drowning Ground

Written by James Marrison

Review written by Gwen Moffat

Gwen Moffat lives in Cumbria. Her novels are set in remote communities ranging from the Hebrides to the American West. The crimes fit their environment, swelling that dreadful record of sin in the smiling countryside cited by Sherlock Holmes.

The Drowning Ground
Michael Joseph
RRP: £16.99
Released: August 27, 2015

A police procedural verging on the exotic, the DCI, Guillermo Downes, half-Argentinian, forced by establishment killers to leave his homeland to wash up in rural England, eventually  inspanned with DS Graves, himself rusticated from Oxford: a couple of misfits who form a surprising but workable team.

The story starts with a flashback. Five years ago Downes and Graves were called to a scene of sudden death when a woman drowned in the pool of a large Cotswold house. There is a head wound which could have been the result of her striking the edge of the pool as she fell, but equally it could be suspect. However the grieving husband has a watertight alibi, no one else can be implicated and the verdict is misadventure.

This story comprises three events in time but not space, all occurring in the same village and intriguingly told in the first person when Downes is primarily involved. Through him we learn that ten years before the woman drowned, two schoolgirls had disappeared, one after the other, their bodies never found. That was Downes’ case too, before Graves came on the scene, and it’s in answer to his questions that past history is recalled: the suspects in the case of the missing girls, the fact that the drowned woman was a second wife, and that a daughter by the first marriage disappeared after her stepmother died. But all this comes to light as a result of the third event, the bulk of the book being in current time, and sparked off explosively by the discovery of the twice widowed landowner impaled on a pitchfork.

Now Downes with all his prior experience and Graves the newcomer, but one with fresh eyes, together start to consider links between events; links form a chain, first sensed then carefully materialising as they start to dig, but even as Downes, like a hunting dog, gets the whiff of a good scent and traces it to the last victim’s bolted and barred house, the place goes up in flames. Anticipated clues are destroyed but another, unexpected and shocking, is revealed. From this point the action gallops.

Nice depiction of locals, old and young, native and incomers, louts and workers, of professionals, both civilian and police. Suspects for the several crimes come and go, leading to a very unpleasant blanket solution that ties everything together: startling and nasty but echoing case histories in real life. Not so much sex and violence but graphic horror and rather too close to the bone for comfort.

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