Cora Lael’s rare sensory gift allows her to feel and hear emotions attached to discarded objects… but will she overcome the detectives’ scepticism and will she be in time to save the child’s life?
The Secret Voices – a compelling and clever murder mystery with a fascinating, mind-reading twist – comes from the pen of M.J. White, a successful writer better known as Miranda Dickinson and author of a raft of bestselling women’s fiction.
Thrilling, chilling and brimming with suspense, this first book of a cracking crime debut fulfils White’s ten-year dream of bringing to publication a story she first imagined on a trip to Suffolk in 2012 when she stood on a freezing cold, windswept beach in Lowestoft.
The result is a dark and haunting tale of a missing child, an emotive topic that acquires an extra power and emotional resonance through the unique perspective of a psychologist’s sensory ability to feel and hear the victim through her clothes and belongings – a gift which, we discover, can also be a curse.
When eight-year-old Hannah Perry goes missing on her way home from school in the small Suffolk village of St Just, the local community is rocked.
It’s only seven years since another local child, ten-year-old Matthew Cooper, also went missing. His body was found four weeks later – he had been horribly murdered and his killer was never caught, leaving a ‘deep scar’ on the villagers that never fully healed.
Heading up the police investigation into Hannah’s disappearance is Acting DS Rob Minshull who is being fast-tracked for promotion after his success in cracking a fraud ring. But Minshull is out of his depth in a tough, high profile case that seems more and more to mirror the murder of Matthew Cooper.
As the case meets a series of dead ends, and the kidnapper starts taunting the police with sinister deliveries of Hannah’s belongings and cryptic notes, the young girl’s life is now hanging perilously in danger.
But then psychologist Dr Cora Lael, whose childhood home is in St Just, enters the picture with her rare ability to sense emotional echoes from objects… emotions that feel as real as if they were her own and which she wants to harness to help make a difference in other people’s lives.
The police team are initially sceptical and sarcastic, not least Rob Minshull who is having to live up to being the son of the force’s most celebrated officer, but when Cora is shown the first of Hannah’s belongings, she hears the child’s scream, shrill and terrified, and knows instantly that somewhere, she is still alive.
With few leads on the case, could Cora prove Hannah’s only hope, and as time runs out, can they find Hannah before history repeats itself?
Emotional synaesthesia does not exist, White tells us in her author’s note, but is inspired by the real-life synaesthesia, a neurological condition that results in a merging of normally unconnected senses, meaning someone may hear colour or see sound.
It proves to be an exciting and inventive crime mystery device, opening up new avenues of investigation and providing intriguing insights into both victims and perpetrators, not least the brave and resilient Cora, determined to prove that her ‘otherness’ does not prevent her from purposefully using her ability to help others.
And if this first case is a taste of things to come, then crime fans are in for a new detective series treat as Cora, Minshull and the Suffolk police unit tackle a nail-biting and highly-charged race against time to track down the kidnapper and find Hannah before another child is cruelly murdered.
Using a multi-layered narrative, taking in the viewpoints of predominantly Hannah, Minshull and Cora, White takes us on a rollercoaster journey through the investigation, exploring the evolving relationship between lead detective and psychologist, the impact of Hannah’s disappearance on her small, close-knit community, and the complex workings of a CID police team.
With her trademark talent for character observation, a mystery that will keep readers gripped to the last page, and a heart-pumping finale, White would appear to be on her own fast-track to a successful new writing venture.
(Canelo Hera, paperback, £8.99)