Only the Dead by Malcolm Hollingdrake

Only the Dead

3/5 stars. I enjoy something different from the norm, and the standard of writing was high, with some terrific descriptive passages and plenty of authentic detail.


Meet DCI Cyril Bennett, a man with a passion for manners and efficiency, as well as an eye for the ladies. His partner, DS David Owen, is naïve and untidy but keen. Together they make a formidable pair.

When the discovery of two infants’ bodies is made at a Teacher Training College, Bennett and Owen are given the case. Soon a number of suspects are identified.

At the same time, a killer is on the loose staging attacks using sulphur mustard.

Is there a link between the infants’ bodies and the sulphur mustard attacks?

Do the answers lie in the past or the present?

Bennett and Owen must work together to bring to justice a killer with revenge on his mind.

My thoughts

From the moment you start reading, it’s clear this is not going to be a conventional police procedural. I have to be honest and say I struggled with the opening chapters, which reveal a lot of detail about one of the two plots that compete for police resources. But once the story got going, the pace picked up and produced an enjoyable read with some exciting moments.

There’s Lawrence, a man bent on revenge for the way people in the care system mistreated his mother. His method of revenge is unusual and elaborate to say the least, but intriguing. I liked the care and attention lavished on him as it helped to explain his motives without condoning his actions.

The second plot strand involved some missing children, whose remains are found. Inquiries by DCI Bennet and DS Owen soon put them on the trail of a gang of ruthless villains, who exploit the most vulnerable for financial reward. There’s a great deal of detail and information about the villains and their operations, which help to lend credibility and realism to their crimes. There are also some ingenious plot twists to keep you guessing.

But I didn’t feel the same detail and attention was given to the police side of things. This might explain why I struggled to warm to DCI Bennett or Owen. Neither engaged me, perhaps because I didn’t really get to know their characters. I would have preferred a little more time being invested in their characters and the police investigation. No doubt the characters will grow and develop as the series progresses.

I also found it difficult to work out who was talking in a quite a few places. This took me out of the story as I had to backtrack to work out which characters were saying what. I had trouble distinguishing Peter and Phillip, for example, who seemed more like twins than lovers.

That said, I enjoy something different from the norm, and the standard of writing was high, with some terrific descriptive passages and plenty of authentic detail. The author did well to juggle the two competing plots, which help to show the pressures facing police officers, who often have to deal with many cases concurrently.

3/5 stars

Only the Dead

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