Reviewed by Wendy Hawkin
In The Wrong Boy, Cathy Ace delivers a murder mystery in the dark, twisted, tradition of British crime cozies. Coloured by shades of Broadchurch, Hinterland, and Shetland, we meet an eccentric cast of characters clustered around the idyllic village of Rhosddraig on a Welsh headland. (Tip: It’s pronounced ross-thraig.) Here we find “stone cottages lining the narrow road, some whitewashed, some left to weather naturally.” Rhos means moor and ddraig means dragon, and this stretch of quiet madness comprises a mythic landscape known as the Dragon’s Back.
In this idyllic village, we are introduced to a multigenerational trio—the Jones women—who take turns narrating. Myfanwy, whose boyfriend nicknamed her Nan is the oldest and sole proprietor of the Dragon’s Head, the local pub. Nan’s daughter Helen is estranged from her husband, and granddaughter Sadie is just seventeen years old. These three flesh out the bones of the backstory while DS Evan Glover of the West Glamorgan Police Service, and his psychologist wife, Betty, attempt to solve the murder.
Ah yes, the murder. The story begins on Guy Fawke’s Day when a local man sees a fire blazing atop the Dragon’s Head. Two days later, a dog walker makes a grisly discovery—a “jumbled, blackened pile of bone shards” beneath a pile of rocks and concrete. Subsequent findings by the Forensic Investigation Team reveal the body had been thoroughly burned, then the skeleton smashed into a thousand pieces, and the bits burned again before being buried under the rocks. As DS Glover is set to retire the following day, he and his wife unravel the murder without reference to the usual police procedure.
What threw me about this book was that the entire story was narrated in the third person by four different narrators and a fifth, young Sadie Jones, who spoke in the first person. Well, ranted actually rather than spoke, about Aled, the love of her life. Aled, who she’d known since childhood. Aled, who she planned to marry and love forever. Aled, who’d been arrested and charged with the aforementioned murder and jailed. Aled, The Wrong Boy. It’s risky to set a character apart like this and I kept wondering why Sadie spoke in the first person, which is much more personal and tends to make the reader feel she’s telling the truth. What made her so special? Was Sadie the protagonist? Her attempts to garner support and sympathy for Aled via social media @wrongboy10 take up much of her time and energy, and we feel her pain.
Cathy Ace is a prolific mystery writer, author of The Cait Morgan Mysteries, The WISE Enquiries Agency Mysteries, and myriad short stories and novellas. She’s a clever, seasoned writer, but I met her as an entertaining presenter where she delighted the audience with her insights into “sleuths or cops, private eyes or spies, clueless crooks or legal eagles to match your television viewing tastes.” If you ever get the chance to book her for your conference, I guarantee she’ll be a hit.
Cathy’s lively and chatty, and her prose is chatty too. She’s a Canadian author, born in Wales, and brings that authenticity of land and culture to her writing. In this mystery novel, you’ll hear all the gossip as our female trio go about their lives in the Dragon’s Head pub, unravelling village stories and revealing secrets. You might even feel like you’re nursing a G and T in the pub with the Corries who gather to watch Coronation Street and gossip.
Like many of the books Cathy mentions in her presentation, The Wrong Boy is a page-turner with as many bumps as a dragon’s tail. The mad reveal is unexpected and will leave you shaking your head and rethinking that walking trip through Wales you’d been considering because the scenery is just so compelling. Wales may be a mythic land of ancient kings, druids, rugged mountains and seascapes peppered with beehive villages, but be careful. All is not as it appears. You might end up meeting the wrong boy, or worse still, being the wrong boy. If you’re looking for cozy and grim, this book is for you.
The Wrong Boy is published by Four Tails Publishing.