I’m a big fan of Rachel Abbott’s books, particularly the DCI Tom Douglas series. Right Behind You is the ninth instalment in this franchise and I snapped up my copy as soon as it was published at the start of the year. These have been a great set of thrillers with disturbing, yet utterly credible, stories at their heart, engaging characters, and enough plot twists to keep you guessing. But could this new release keep up the pace?
contemporary fiction | mystery | thriller | suspense
back cover blurb
Some doors should not be opened.
Some can never be closed.
Jo Palmer’s peaceful and happy life is about to end.
Ash – the man she loves – will be arrested by the police.
Millie – her precious daughter – will be taken from her.
She will lose her friends.
She will doubt her sanity.
Someone is stealing everything Jo loves, and will stop at nothing.
But right now, Jo is laughing in her kitchen, eating dinner with her family, suspecting nothing.
It’s raining outside.
There’s a knock on the door. They are here.
Author – Rachel Abbot | Published by – Black Dot Publishing in January 2020 | Pages – 389 (paperback)
I’ve been a fan of the DCI Tom Douglas series from the outset, so when I spotted this latest instalment had been published I snapped it up straight away. The series has been a treat of well-written thrillers packed with unpredictable story lines, terrible (but believable) crimes against likeable characters, and a lead detective who I seem to have developed a bit of a crush on. But something’s slipped, and Right Behind You lacked the drama that’s kept me hooked for the previous eight books.
The story starts in the cosy, family-filled home of Jo Palmer and her partner Ash, during a good-naturedly noisy family Sunday lunch. Ash’s younger brother and sister – Sami and Nousha – arrive without fail every Sunday to be fed, whilst Jo’s seven year old daughter, Millie, is the beloved baby of the family. The hubbub that fills the room also fills the page, and it’s difficult not to imagine yourself there at the table too. Jo and Ash’s relationship is a long standing one, and though they are not married, they both look upon Ash as Millie’s dad.
Over the course of the following week it becomes clear that Ash and Jo are going through a bit of a rocky patch, and both are keeping secrets from each other. Then, on Saturday evening a knock at the door marks the point where these secrets burst their seemingly perfect bubble. Ash, a highly respected paediatric surgeon is arrested for harming Millie, and Millie is taken away to be questioned by social services.
It soon becomes clear, however, that things aren’t quite what they seem, and doubts start to creep into Jo’s head. What started off as a nice cosy family story has morphed into that horrible bad-dream feeling when you know something dreadful is happening but you can’t move; can’t get away from the danger or run forwards to help. Enter DCI Tom Douglas (swoon) and DI Becky Robinson.
It’s a relief to get Tom and Becky into the story, with their great working dynamic coming through as loud and clear as in the earlier books. Tom is on the cusp of becoming a new father, and his teenage daughter from his first marriage is now living with him and his partner, Louisa, whilst her mother enjoys a cruise and recovers from her cancer treatment. Tom’s busy home life continues to jostle for his time and attention, but unlike so many other fictional detectives, he embraces and enjoys his home life and works hard to make sure his family never feel sidelined by his career.
DI Becky Robinson takes immediate control of the investigation and strikes up a good relationship with Jo. But as the investigation unfolds, Jo starts to withhold information and censor what she’s telling the police, despite having been described earlier in the book as displaying ‘warrior’ like protectiveness of her daughter.
Until this point, I was really enjoying the story – it’s got great potential and introduced enough characters for me to start questioning their motives as I read. But for some reason I can’t put my finger on, I just cannot warm to Jo. She’s not been written as a character who we’re clearly meant to dislike, but I simply can’t feel any connection to her.
Before long I find myself questioning Jo’s character – not because the book’s been written in a way to make her appear a suspect, but because she’s suddenly being written as making improbable decisions and choices that are absolutely at odds with the character from the early chapters. Her actions soon grow from the unlikely to the totally implausible, and the book has lost my attention.
What started out as a really promising thriller, with a unique and intriguing entry point, quickly became a rather formulaic plot that lacked the suspense, plot twists, and mystery that I’ve come to love from the DCI Tom Douglas series.
I’m feeling deflated and rather sorry for myself as I type this (nothing a G&T in an hour or so won’t fix though) as I was really looking forward to this book. Once the initial red-head temper flash passes, I’m sure I won’t be turning my back on the series from now on, but I need to do a bit more sulking and stomping for a while, first.
Before I end this review though – and hopefully before I’ve put you off reading any of the books in this series – I really do recommend you try them. Right Behind You is a blip in an otherwise enjoyable franchise. Yes, you could read it as a standalone story without having read the earlier books, but if this review has achieved one thing then it’s hopefully to talk you out of that. Go back to where it began and draw your own conclusions …
When a great series loses its edge do you persevere in the hope that the next book will redeem it? Or cut your losses?