Dead Ground – M.W. Craven

2 July 2021
Dead Ground Book Cover Dead Ground
Washington Poe
M.W. Craven
Crime, Thriller
Little Brown Group
3 June 2021

Detective Sergeant Washington Poe is in court, fighting eviction from his beloved and isolated croft, when he is summoned to a backstreet brothel in Carlisle where a man has been beaten to death with a baseball bat. Poe is confused - he hunts serial killers and this appears to be a straightforward murder-by-pimp - but his attendance was requested personally, by the kind of people who prefer to remain in the shadows.

As Poe and the socially awkward programmer Tilly Bradshaw delve deeper into the case, they are faced with seemingly unanswerable questions: despite being heavily vetted for a high-profile job, why does nothing in the victim's background check out? Why was a small ornament left at the murder scene - and why did someone on the investigation team steal it? And what is the connection to a flawlessly executed bank heist three years earlier, a heist where nothing was taken


Dead Ground is the latest in the spellbinding crime thriller series from Mike W. Craven. It is such a joy to read a captivating thriller with two characters in Tilly and Poe that are awash with fascination, excitement, capability and humour.

With an international trade summit planned for Scarness Hotel in Cumbria, the security services from the US are in full preparation when a partner of the helicopter firm they are using for transporting the political leaders is found brutally tortured and murdered in a pop-up brothel in Carlisle. Not sure if this is related to the summit, an investigation is launched into determining the full exposure before the US services commit to participation. FBI agent Melody Lee, now reinstated after The Curator murder hunt (I told you it would crop up), requested Detective Washington Poe and Tilly Bradshaw from the Crime Analysis Unit with the National Crime Agency. Poe questions this request considering MI5 are all over this with their top agents, but the American’s want someone who will tell it as it is and will not be controlled by MI5 or UK government. Everyone will soon realise that with regards to Poe

“They tried to keep him in their carefully contained box. Assumed they could point at what they wanted him to look at, shield him from what they didn’t. Which showed just how badly they’d misjudged him.”

The extent of the investigative plot starts with US and UK forces in Afghanistan years previous. A major incident saw the recovery of a military prisoner come war-hero, from certain execution by the Taliban, and the unfortunate death of the whole unit that saved him Tango Two Four from a suicide bomber on a mission they didn’t need to be involved in. The plot then delves into the local criminal underworld and activities surrounding the Summit. Mike Craven draws fascinating characters that wrestle with the many restrictions of the job, secrecy, ambition, personal relationships, especially with Tilly and Poe, and ego.

The plot underscores this as a multi-level mystery and a remarkable crime investigation in its authenticity, scope, and deviousness. But what really takes this story to an outstanding level are the characters that I love spending time with. Poe is a detective with fantastic insight and an ability to sense the manipulation of others and the recognition of the smallest of details that often become crucial in an investigation. Tilly is a real treasure, and over the series, we can see her develop from that shy, refrained, slightly autistic woman of serious intelligence (“as clever as Stephen Hawking’s wheelchair”), to someone who is now outspoken but retains that awkward social discourse and an inability to lie. The humour flows mainly from her and her brutally honest description of people and situations. Neither suffers fools gladly, but they have tremendous loyalty to each other. Mike Craven shared a scene with me back when the Puppet Show was just released, and it was great to see it delivered in this story – the scene is where Tilly is trying to explain Quidditch to Poe, and I can visualise that interaction with a rooted smile.

Dead Ground is a highly entertaining thriller from a master storyteller that is sharp and compelling as it blends the dark side of crime with humour. Dead Ground follows The Curator in the series, a point often referred to in this story, so a bit of advice is to read that book beforehand if you want to understand certain background references. I can highly recommend this book, and I would like to thank Mike Craven, Little Brown Group, Constable and NetGalley for providing me with a free ARC in return for an honest review.

Peter Donnelly

Founder of The Reading Desk, supporting readers, authors, publishers and book industry. Top Reviewer on Amazon, Goodreads, and NetGalley

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