February 2017

Louise Phillips - Red Ribbons

"Rich in atmosphere with a complex plot that really does keep you turning the pages..."

When a missing school girl is found buried in the Dublin mountains, criminal psychologist Kate Pearson is brought in to help the investigation.

The dead girl has been murdered, her body arranged in a very particular way – hands clasped together in prayer, two red ribbons in her hair. Twenty-four hours later, a second school girl is found, her body identically arranged.

As the pressure to find the killer intensifies, there's one vital connection to be made – Ellie Brady, a woman institutionalised fifteen years earlier for the murder of her daughter Amy. Ellie stopped talking when everybody stopped listening.

But what connects the death of Amy Brady to the murdered school girls? As Kate Pearson beings to unravel the truth, danger is closer than she knows…

Louise Phillips is one of the most prominent voices in contemporary Irish crime fiction, and with good reason. Her series of crime novels featuring Dr Kate Pearson have been widely acclaimed. 'Red Ribbons' is the first novel in this series and an excellent introduction to a complex, compelling protagonist.

I first read this novel two years ago. As someone who reads a huge amount of crime fiction, I sometimes lose track of what I've read. Not so with 'Red Ribbons'. The novel haunted me in the weeks after I read it and I loved it enough to read it again recently. This time, to coincide with the novel's US publication, I'm delighted to say it's every bit as good the second time around.

The story is told from the view point of three characters: the killer who is murdering the school girls, Kate herself, and Ellie Brady. Ellie is in a secure psychiatric unit, where she has been ever since she was charged with murdering her twelve year-old daughter. With great skill, Phillips brings together the different strands of the three characters' stories, drawing us deeper into the dark heart of a serial killer while, at the same time, slowly revealing the tragic story behind the death of Ellie's daughter.

All three characters are compelling. Phillips is particularly skilful in portraying the psychology of a killer. Her serial killer is the opposite of the one-dimensional psychopaths we see too often in some crime fiction. This is a complex, deeply troubled human with his own darkly tragic backstory. It is impossible not to feel sympathy while, at the same time, feeling true horror for the crimes being committed. There is a haunting element to the killer's story that make parts of his narrative seem almost dreamlike, most particularly in the sections when he's remembering his childhood.

Kate is a great central character. A working mother, clearly talented and dedicated to her job, she is struggling to balance the demands of home life and working life. Her marriage is clearly in trouble, which gives an edge to the obvious chemistry between Kate and DI Adam O'Connor. I'm keen to see how that relationship plays out in future novels.

Above all, I loved Ellie. It's clear, from the very beginning, that this is a deeply damaged, deeply traumatised character. Again, Phillips does a cracking job of – layer by layer – revealing what happened for Ellie to end up in an institution accused of killing her own child. Phillips really conveys the terror of what it feels like to be locked up and powerless.

It's clear that there must be a connection between Ellie's story and the police investigation but Phillips maintains the tension for as long as she can, which compelled me to keep reading as I was desperate to work out what was going on.

'Red Ribbons' is a deeply satisfying crime debut. Rich in atmosphere with a complex plot that really does keep you turning the pages, and a list of compelling characters. I cannot recommend this book highly enough.

Reviewed by: S.B.

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