The Frozen Shroud is the sixth thriller in Martin Edward’s Lake District mystery series featuring celebrity murder historian Daniel Kind and DCI Hannah Scarlett, head of a Cold Case Review Team. The book is set in the sparsely populated isolated hamlet of Ravenbank where on a Halloween night back before the First World War a pregnant servant girl was viciously murdered, her face bashed in with some sort of blunt instrument and then discovered with her face covered by a makeshift shroud frozen during the night. Legend has it the ghost of this “faceless woman” continues to haunt Ravenbank, probably because the murderer had never been suitably punished.
Fast forward to the present day. When five years past, another woman — this time the young wife of the much older land owner — is found murdered in the same way, and then after a current Halloween party a third woman meets the same fate, coincidence seems highly unlikely. Although in each case, a likely killer has been identified, there is no real definitive evidence, and after the last case, it is clear that further investigation is necessary. The original murder is grist for the scholarly Daniel who sets about trying to find out what happened. The newer cases are in the hands of the local authorities — if not for Hannah directly, for the people she works with.
Setting the tale of ghosts and murders in the Lake Country, the idyllic countryside so closely identified with Wordsworth and Coleridge, reminds the reader of the poets’ explanation of what they were aiming to achieve in their 1798 Lyrical Ballads. Coleridge was going to take the strange and supernatural and give it an air of reality; Wordsworth was to paint the wonder of the ordinary and commonplace. Although, as Edwards describes the countryside, it is not quite as idyllic as Wordsworth would have it, in a sense he is doing something very similar. Here is the ordinary English village and see what mystery lies beneath that simple exterior. People are not necessarily what they seem to be. It is a Wordsworthian lamentation of “what man has made of man.”
While it might take the reader a while to figure out the relationships between all the various characters as the book opens, once you manage to get them straight in your mind the story moves along with dispatch. Edwards knows his business. He understands how to parcel out the clues and red herrings so as to feed the reader enough information to keep a variety of possibilities open, while making sure to prepare for a satisfying solution. And if the reader happens to figure out what is going on before the revelation at the end, there is always the smug joy of self-satisfaction to make up for any lack of surprise.