Book Review

Review: Hold My Hand, by M.J. Ford (2018)

4/5 stars

A stunning new voice in crime-thriller fiction joins the likes of Karin Slaughter, Peter James, and James Oswald in this fantastic debut. M.J. Ford’s novel is multi-dimensional, edge-of-your-seat gripping, with a protagonist that readers can really root for.

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To begin, let’s see how the blurb introduces us to the events taking place:

How long do you hunt for the missing?

When Josie Masters sees a boy in a red football shirt being led away by a clown at a circus, she tries desperately to alert the crowds whilst his terrified parents panic. But it’s too late. Dylan Jones has disappeared…

Thirty years later, Josie is working as a police officer in Bath. The remains of a child’s body have been found – complete with the tatters of a torn red football shirt. Could it be the boy she saw on the night of the circus? Or is it someone else altogether?

And then another child vanishes…

 

The mysterious connection between the two abductions is unravelled in a way that is both meticulous and gripping. Each new discovery felt plausible, yet moved the lot along through twists and turns to keep readers on their toes right until the end. Deftly manoeuvring across the growing canvas of suspects, peppering clues and false trails throughout, Ford crafts a great, modern mystery story, uncovering the dark secrets his cast of characters keep.

As a big fan of TV crime dramas as well as books, I adore novels that have the police station as the focal point of investigations, rather than private or “domestic” investigators (parents, partners, friends, and the like). The hustle and bustle of the environment, and the mix of characters from various departments that are part of the team, adds so much to the fast-moving, exhilarating atmosphere of the drama.

This is exactly what Ford achieves in Hold My Hand. Most of the story takes place across five days, and the central focus on the police investigators made that seem plausible rather than convoluted. With so many people working on the case across various departments, drastic developments and changes in the investigation do occur in the space of a few hours.

“She watched the faces of the pedestrians going about their business. Any one of them could be carrying a terrible secret, planning a crime, wearing a mask. She could be looking right at murderers and thieves and perverts.

The problem was, until they slipped up, you never knew.”

Jo Masters is an engaging, three-dimensional protagonist, a product of all of her experiences. Her continued guilt about what happened at the circus, her fraught family and romantic relationships, and her career ambitions are explored as they shape her perspective on the investigations. She’s a good police officer, working by instinct as much as the evidence in front of her (although this can and does hinder her occasionally). She’s trying to move up the ranks, to prove her worth both professionally and personally, combating the feeling that others have always landed on their feet more easily than she has. This brings great depth to a narrative jam-packed full of thrills and action, giving readers a protagonist that they can root for.

Parent-child relationships are a key theme of the book, depicted from various angles. There is a definite focus on loss within that theme, which is generally well-executed (there were a couple of instances that I felt when slightly too far). Overall, though, this theme served to make the supporting cast more rounded characters, and furthered my investment in the plot as a whole.

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One aspect of the book that I found problematic was the depiction of dementia. It’s a problem that spans a lot of the fiction (and nonfiction) market, but it struck me once again while reading Hold My Hand how grating the exploration of living with the disease often is. In most instances, the character living with dementia has a very small role to play (or, as in Hold My Hand, they are simply talked about by other characters) and the language surrounding them is incredibly negative and demeaning. While I don’t deny that some people living with dementia can be aggressive, even cruel, or that relatives struggle to accept the changes that are taking place, I’d still like to see some positive representation once in a while. It’s a topic very personal to me, so it probably affected my enjoyment of the book more than it would for other readers. However, I’d still like to see a change in how writers and publishers explore the disease in literature going forward.

On the whole, this book was an entertaining and engaging read. The stakes were high, suspects entered and exited the frame of guilt continuously, and suspense mounted with each new discovery, culminating an emotionally charged finale.

It’s a stellar debut!

 

 

*Hold My Hand was written by M.J. Ford, published by Avon (a division of HarperCollins Publishers)  in 2018

** Thanks very much to the Avon team for providing me with a copy in exchange for participation in an Instagram Tour (my post will go live on 30th March 2018)

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