DI Marnie Rome first ventured on to the literary scene in 2014, in Sarah Hilary’s debut Someone Else’s Skin. Horribly unsettling, beautifully written, it went on to win the Theakston’s crime novel of the year award. Quieter Than Killing is the detective-with-a-troubled-past’s fourth outing, and it’s just as good: honestly, if you’re not reading this series of London-set police procedurals then you need to start doing so right away.
This time around, Rome and her sidekick DS Noah Jake are dealing with a string of apparently unconnected brutal assaults. The victims seem to have nothing in common, but Rome and Jake discover that they have all served time for brutal acts of their own in the past. They believe they are dealing with a vigilante, not someone on a killing spree. “It was quieter than that. In some ways, it was worse. Leaving victims on all sides, living in fear, watching the shadows.” Or as one of their colleagues puts it, less elegantly: “As if we don’t have enough arseholes on our hands without the arsehole-hating arseholes pitching in.”
When one of the victims dies of their injuries, the investigation steps up a gear, and as Rome and Jake look into the past crimes of the victims, other chapters are introduced from the point of view of a 10-year-old boy, Finn, who has been imprisoned and is living in an eerie mix of terror and boredom after being snatched from the street. Throw in an assault on Rome’s tenants – they are living in her childhood home – and the whole affair starts to feel very personal.
Detectives with dark pasts aren’t hard to find on the bookshelves, but Rome’s is darker than most: six years ago, her foster brother Stephen murdered her parents in their home, and she ended up being called to the crime scene, watching from outside as her life was torn apart. Quieter Than Killing digs deeper under the skin of her past, exposing the abuse, manipulation and misery still being suffered years later, forcing her to reconsider her family and her relationship with Stephen.
“Pain didn’t stop because you benched its latest player,” Rome muses. It’s passed “up the line, that’s all, a new friction plucking at the city’s strings, the whole of London one long dirty neon bruise, aching and echoing to this new tune”.
As ever, Hilary has an uncanny knack for conjuring up a scene or a character in a few words – the face of the pugilistic wife beater “like the skin setting on custard”; the miserable high-rise block “smelling of chip fat and orange ammonia”. As ever, Rome manages to be both vulnerable and tough, charismatic and brimful of gut feeling. And as ever, Hilary belts out a corker of a story, all wrapped up in her vivid, effortless prose. Long may Marnie Rome walk the streets of our capital.
• Quieter Than Killing by Sarah Hilary is published by Headline (£16.99). To order a copy for £14.44 to bookshop.theguardian.com or call 0330 333 6846. Free UK p&p over £10, online orders only. Phone orders min p&p of £1.99