My word Hilary’s latest novel will make your stomach churn with tension. The opening features a barely dressed young girl running out into the road inadvertently causing a car crash before disappearing. There are mixed reports about whether or not a girl was there but those who claim to have seen her report that she was in a severely distressed state.
D.S. Noah Jake is just tucking into his breakfast when he takes a phone call ordering to join D.I. Marnie Rome at the crash site. As the pair interview the witnesses they begin to gather a disturbing picture and go in search of the missing girl.
These scenes are interspersed with a graphically depressing picture of youth homelessness on the streets and chapters titled ‘Aimee’, a character who represents the voice of the homeless who’ve been taken in by a man called Harm.
And this is where the story becomes genuinely disturbing. Hilary ramps up the sense of oppression and fear in that house through Aimee’s experience with Harm. Right from the off Aimee talks about the dead spaces, the places where people don’t really see what’s right in front of them. Hilary cleverly experiments with this construct throughout the entire novel in ways you won’t even see coming.
Harm is a menacing presence at all times, the kind of presence that is immobilising, the kind that makes time slow down as you become hyper aware of every gesture he makes, until you’re left wondering, like those in his care, what his motives are and what will happen next. Everyone has to obey Harm’s rules in order to live under his roof; he controls everything they do, think and eat. The scene setting is incredibly visual, when those girls sit down at the table to eat with Harm, so do you, and their experience becomes yours.
Meanwhile, DI Marnie Rome and DS Noah encounter both resistance and help from the people who witnessed the events that led up to the car crash and some have issues of their own that blur the truth. They’re negotiating with gang culture on an estate and children who are witnesses to things they never should have been exposed to. Rome is also trying to come to terms with her traumatic history as she tries to place herself in the missing girl’s shoes and retrace her footsteps. Meanwhile, Noah’s relationship with Dan is warming up nicely despite being called out to crime scenes at all hours. This third outing for D.I. Marnie Rome retains the humanity she is known for as the truth of the situation unfolds even as she puts herself in danger to protect the innocent.
Tastes Like Fear is an extraordinary depiction of psychological, emotional and economic violence that is genuinely chilling.
With thanks to Headline for the review copy.
Tastes like Fear by Sarah Hilary is the 3rd novel in the D.I. Marie Rome series and is due to be published on 7 April.
Follow the author on twitter: @sarah_hilary