Scarecrow by Matthew Pritchard
Genre: Adult Murder Mystery
Publisher: Salt Publishing
Release date: October 15 2013
Source: e-book from publisher
In a word: A nail-biting murder mystery with a distinct European flavor, steady pacing that leads to an exciting finish, and characters with depth and humor.
It was a long time since Danny had been in a house like this: the sofa with its neatly arranged cushions, lace doilies set out on the coffee table, a valance above the window made to match the fabric of the curtains. Leather-bound volumes of Reader’s Digest were arranged in the bookcases that lined the walls. A carriage clock stood on the mantelpiece above a crotched fireguard. The clock ticked conspicuously in the way that Danny had noticed clocks always seemed to do in unhappy houses; it was something to do with being surrounded by silence, he supposed.
You may not have heard of Matthew Pritchard before (I certainly hadn’t before I read his book), but I’m hoping that will change soon. Pritchard is British, and Salt Publishing is a small British publisher that I’ve never heard of, either. But if Scarecrow is any indication of the quality of work they put out, I am very interested in reading more of their books. Scarecrow is a wonderfully professional book for a small publisher, perfectly edited and brilliantly written. Pritchard is a hell of a writer, and he really needs to write more books. Not only that, but someone needs to sell those books here in the United States, for crying out loud! I guess what I’m trying to say is that I was pleasantly surprised by this book, and I hope you take a chance and read it.
Danny Sanchez is an expat British journalist living in Spain. One day he is sent to report on a house that is about to be demolished, because of Spain’s tangled legal system. The owners of the house, an older couple who are also expats and have poured every dime they have into their house, are distraught to discover that there is nothing they can do to halt the demolition. But something even worse is about to be revealed, as the demolition crew uncovers a dead body that has been sealed up in the walls of the house. The body has garish make-up smeared over its face and its genitals have been mutilated, and before you can say “sex crime,” another body in a similar state turns up in another house’s walls.
Danny thinks there might be a connection to a string of murders from a case years ago, but how could there be, since the killer, nicknamed “Scarecrow,” was caught and is still behind bars? But Danny is convinced and won’t let anything stop him from uncovering the truth, including Spanish bureaucrats who are trying to keep the distasteful details of the murders a secret and an editor with his own agenda. Dealing with an intelligent killer has its risks, as Danny is about to find out, and it’s only with the help of some trusted friends and some quick thinking that Danny will be able to figure out this case before the killer strikes again.
I loved that the protagonist in this story is a reporter, rather than a cop or a private detective. It made for a very refreshing serial killer story. There’s more to Danny than meets the eye. He’s dealing with his out-of-control mother who has come to stay with him; he’s just met a girl he likes but is having the worst time connecting with her; and as tenacious a reporter as he is, he can’t get anyone to back up his theory about who the serial killer might be. I loved the humor that infused the story whenever Danny was dealing with his mother or trying to schedule a date with Marsha!
I also enjoyed the back story about Danny’s reporter friend Ray, a man whose death Danny feels responsible for (but isn’t). Danny struggles with his feelings for Ray when he’s forced to deal with Ray’s wife during the investigation, which only made him more human and likeable.
The story was well-paced, and Pritchard doles out clues slowly and carefully throughout the book, until the end when the action and danger intensify. Danny’s story is interspersed with short chapters from the killer’s point of view, which really added to the creep factor. We see glimpses into the killer’s mindset, but the author is careful not to give anything away. Danny’s job is to connect all the dots, and with his journalist’s instincts, he manages to figure everything out, even when everyone seems to get in his way.
The only issue I had with Scarecrow were the frequent British words peppered throughout the book, many of them legal terms. As I am unabashedly American, I’m not embarrassed to admit that I stumbled over things like “coroner’s inquest,” “open verdict,” and “enquiry.” On the other hand, the British-expat-living-in-Spain scenario gave the story an exotic feel that I really enjoyed, especially for a small-town California gal like me!
If you are looking for a complex and slow building mystery, with humor as well as the necessary ick factor that comes with stories about serial killers, Scarecrow is just the thing. I’m hoping that enough attention from American readers will compel some publishing company on this side of the pond to take notice of Matthew Pritchard. The attention would be well deserved.
Many thanks to the publisher for supplying a review copy. You can connect with Matthew Pritchard on his website here.
You can find Scarecrow here: (Please note that the Amazon link is Amazon UK)