One Down… Twelve To Go

“Stretching along the shelf, standing upright, were twelve wooden coffins. Nine were closed, and three open… with little dolls standing inside them…

It was supposed to be the most special day of her life – until the unthinkable happened. Leslie Petersen is shot dead on her wedding day. With the bride’s killer vanished without a trace, the investigation into the murder grinds to a halt before it’s even begun.

But then, the decomposing body of an unidentified homeless man is found in an old Cold War bunker, and DCI Mark Lapslie makes a bizarre discovery. Hidden near the body is a shrine full of miniature wooden coffins. Each coffin contains a little doll, all dressed differently. One of the dolls is dressed as a bride – could this be a link to Leslie’s murder? And if so, who do the other dolls represent? Can Lapslie and his team stop the countdown of the ‘dying dolls’ before it’s too late?”

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I’ve just finished reading “The Thirteenth Coffin”, the fourth novel in a series featuring police detective DCI Mark Lapsie from British author, and former policeman himself, Nigel McCrery – who also created the TV series “Silent Witness”.

Nigel McCrery
Nigel McCrery

I had previously enjoyed “Tooth And Claw” and “Scream”, books 2 and 3 in the series, so was fairly confident that I would enjoy this one too. As with so many fictional detectives (is it the same for real life ones, I wonder?) Lapsie has baggage. In this case it’s not substance abuse, problems with ex-wives or having strayed onto the wrong side of the thin blue line on occasion. No, Lapsie suffers as a result of having a condition called synaesthesia, which is a condition where a sensation in one of the senses, such as hearing, triggers a sensation in another, such as taste. That is the case for Lapsie, with voices and other sounds leading his mouth to be filled with all kinds of unexpected tastes – most off-putting and distracting for a detective you would think.

On occasion with past cases this condition has aided Lapsie with his investigations. That is less of a factor this time around though as it is his dreams, however unlikely it may seem, providing more inspiration on a rather tricky case trying to track down an especially efficient and calculating serial killer.

As usual Lapsie has his supportive DS Emma Bradbury to help him both with the case and minimising the effects of his condition as much as possible by acting as a conduit between him and the rest of the team. Thus it is these two, plus the elusive killer, that provide the focus for the vast majority of the narrative.

Despite one or two leaps that I’m not sure a genuine police detective would necessarily make – for example knowing immediately that the dolls and coffins are significant and making a connection with the shooting of the bride so quickly and decisively – and the inference of religious motivation that isn’t ultimately followed through on, the story flows really well and is cleverly plotted. I certainly had no idea who the bad guy could be until he was finally unmasked!

Inspired by the intriguing true life case of seventeen miniature dolls and coffins that were found on Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh back in 1836, McCrery has come up with a super story in present day Essex. A very good read, warmly recommended. Roll on book five!…top

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