Ragged Alice by Gareth L Powell

Publisher – Tor

Price - £2.33 Kindle eBook

Published – Out Now

A detective in a small welsh town can literally see the evil in people’s souls.

Orphaned at an early stage, DCI Holly Craig grew up in the small welsh town of Pontyrhudd. As son as she was old enough, she ran away to London and joined the police. Now fifteen years later, she’s back in her old hometown to investigate what seems at first to be a simple hit and run, but which soon escalates into something far deadlier and unexpectedly personal – something that will take all of her peculiar talents to solve.

One of the joys of crime stories is trying to make sense of the world. Often the crime itself allows the author to point a wider lens at a town or society to explain what is going on. In this novella Gareth L Powell provides a lead detective who finds a case that reveals a wider town filled with corruption that directly led to one of her life’s biggest turning points.

The story starts very suddenly with the last few moments of Lisa the victim of a hit and run. The horror of watching someone dying know that something wrong but not being able to fully understand is stark and wants you to find some justice for this young woman. Into this steps Pontyrhudd’s new DCI – Holly Craig who has returned from London to where she grew up. The case swiftly turns to Lisa’s boyfriend and then he is found savagely murdered, and then another – the two men appear to have been killed in a similar symbolic way that has ties to the death of Holly’s mother. Holly starts to investigate the more powerful figure in this small town and finds answers to her past and that there may eb more of an explanation for her to see into a person’s soul.

This is quiet an unusual tale of revenge. I know Powell for his SF and he has adopted a very different style here. The town is painted grey and in decay mirroring the figures that Holly starts to suspect.  Aided by a keen junior detective, a dogged reporter and a woman apparently haunted by ghosts they start to unpick the town’s secrets – while Holly uses her gifts to determine who may be guilty.  Holly is a haunted detective having recently experienced a very brutal crime that she was not able to prevent despite her supernatural gifts and her return home is more to hide from the world. But this crime seems to awaken her sense of Justice particularly for Lisa.

Watching her sit in her dead grandad’s own mouldering home while she decides where she wants to go next and where she ran from really worked. It feels very much a mood piece and as a novella I think that manages nicely to paint a picture of the small British towns we often ignore being home to as much division and darkness as the larger cities that many books instead focus on. Places were a desire to just break free is seen as itself as disloyalty.  My one issue was that in the final third I felt Holly became more a spectator to the story and the drama that unfolded. It feels slightly open ended, so I really hope with this origin story out of the way we get a few more tales on Wale’s magical dark side.