In The Spotlight: Sharon Bolton’s A Dark and Twisted Tide

In The Spotlight A-LHello, All,

Welcome to another edition of In The Spotlight. Sharon Bolton (who’s also written as S.J. Bolton) has gotten quite a lot of recognition. She’s written several standalones, but she’s gotten perhaps the most notice for her series featuring Lacey Flint. Let’s take a look at Bolton’s writing and turn today’s spotlight on A Dark and Twisted Tide, the fourth in her Lacey Flint series.

Recent events (See Like This Forever (AKA Lost) for the details) have convinced DC Lacey Flint to leave the Homicide Unit and get back into uniform. So she has transferred to the Marine Unit, where she’s hoping to do the regular and less stressful work of checking licenses, warning boaters about unsafe conditions, and so on. She’s gotten her own houseboat, too, on Deptford Creek, and has joined the community of those who live along the canals of the Thames.

One morning, she’s swimming in the Thames (something that’s risky enough in itself) when she discovers a body. Forensics tests show that it’s the body of a young woman, probably Middle Eastern or South Asian. And it doesn’t take long to establish that she probably drowned. What’s more, it was not a suicide. There’s evidence that it might have been a ritual killing; but even if it’s not, it’s most likely homicide. As if that isn’t disturbing enough, there’s a very good possibility that the body was left deliberately where Flint would find it. So, someone may either be targeting her, or trying to find a way to confess.

Other strange and unsettling things also happen, all of them seeming to show that someone, possibly the killer, has a particular interest in Flint. In the meantime, it looks as though the murder the team is investigating may be linked to another death. So, despite her determination to step away from investigating murders, Flint finds herself drawn into this case.

Since this is now a homicide investigation, Flint begins to work with DI Dana Tulloch and her team at the Met as well as with the Marine Unit. The more information they get, more certain they are that this could be much more complicated than they thought – and much more dangerous for Flint.

Like the other Lacey Flint novels, this one’s got a strong sense of the police procedural. There are briefings, interviews with witnesses and ‘people of interest,’ and so on. Readers follow along as the police make sense of forensic evidence and use other clues, too, to close in on the killer. In this case, we also see an interesting situation where there’s cooperation between the Tulloch’s Homicide Unit and the Marine Unit, which is headed by DCI Dave Cook. Given the nature of the investigation, that makes sense. The two teams work well together, with Flint a part of both teams, even though she’s nominally only a part of the Marine Unit. There’s some almost good-natured commentary about which squad’s budget will be tapped for some of the operations, but there aren’t the ‘patch wars’ we sometimes see in police procedurals. And there is camaraderie among the police.

Much of the action takes place on and near the Thames and its creeks and other tributaries. So the river itself is a very important element in the novel. It can be beautiful and very dangerous, and there are parts of it that most people never get to see. Here, in fact, is what Bolton herself says in the Author’s Note:


‘Please do NOT swim in the tidal Thames…The Thames is deep, fast and dangerous. As is Deptford Creek.’


As trite as it sounds, it’s not so far wrong to say that the river is almost another character in the story.

There are several sub-plots in this novel, and they form another important element in it. For example, Tulloch and her long-time partner, Helen Rowley, have decided they want to become parents. Readers follow along as they investigate fertility clinics and other options for having children. There’s also a sub-plot that concerns Flint’s romantic interest, DI Mark Joesbury, who’s gone undercover on a special operation. Readers who prefer just one main plot will notice this.

There’s also the character of Lacey Flint herself. As fans know, she has her own past issues and secrets to deal with, and they play their role here. She is independent and sometimes reckless (even her creator admits that). But she’s not a stereotypical ‘maverick copper who can’t work with anyone.’ In general, she sees herself as part of a unit, and understands her responsibility to the people in it. She has a solid relationship with both Cook and Tulloch, too, and it’s obvious that each respects her and vice versa.

This is the fourth novel in the Lacey Flint series, so there are some story arcs that come up in it. References are made to earlier novels, too. Readers who like to follow a series from the beginning, and who aren’t familiar with this series, will notice that. The mystery itself, though – the deaths and what’s behind them – are self-contained, so that it’s not difficult for a reader new to the series to follow along.

The story is told from multiple points of view, including Flint’s, Tulloch’s, and others. Those who prefer only one point of view will notice this change in perspectives. That said, though, each chapter is identified by the name of the person/people whose point(s) of view are being shared. It’s worth noting that the same is true of the timeline. Whenever the timeline shifts from current events (which it does in some places), it’s made clear.

A Dark and Twisted Tide is the story of some unusual deaths, and the two teams of police who investigate them. It’s set against the backdrop of one of the world’s most famous rivers, and features a complex and layered protagonist who’s finding her way as a member of the police force. But what’s your view? Have you read A Dark and Twisted Tide? If you have, what elements do you see in it?


Coming Up On In The Spotlight


Monday, 11 April/Tuesday, 12 April – Unidentified Woman #15 – David Housewright

Monday, 18 April/Tuesday, 19 April – The Page Three Murders –  Kalpana Swaminathan

Monday, 25 April/Tuesday, 26 April – The Cask – Freeman Wills Crofts


Filed under A Dark and Twisted Tide, Sharon Bolton

33 responses to “In The Spotlight: Sharon Bolton’s A Dark and Twisted Tide

  1. What a lovely spotlight especially as I’m a huge fan of this series. I like how you mention that the Thames is almost a character in its own right in this one too – I have to admit I feel differently about this river since reading this book.

    • Thanks for the kind words, Cleo. I’m so glad you enjoyed the spotlight. This is a fine series, isn’t it? I’ll be really interested to see where the series goes next. And about the Thames? It really does come alive in this novel, I think. Certainly its mood, if you will, plays a major role in the story’s atmosphere.

  2. A.M. Pietroschek

    The first thought triggered for me was that, in my entire lifetime, I never read a single report about shark-attacks around the British Island or vicinity. And while a dreamy-eyed part of me loves to think that might telltale of an ancient, shamanic or druidic pact between what we call the United Kingdom and the Sharks…

    Contextually: I agree with the feedback before me on ‘The Thames’ being nearly as mysterious, but luckily less esotericist, than the Bermuda Triangle. Dark and brooding at times, deep and secretive, or welcoming and bright all in one!

    The casual way with which you hinted at politics and bureaucracy, Met and Marine Police cooperating, was inspiring, too.

    I agree you have once more proven your talent to pick worthy readings, and you once more present the information very well. I hope you enjoyed your own reading, too.

    Have a nice day!

    • Thank you for the kind words, André. You make a well-taken point about the Thames. It is at times bright and beautiful, and at times very brooding indeed. I’ve never read about sharks in the Thames, either, but it’s got plenty of dangers without them. Little wonder Bolton makes a point of warning readers not to swim in it.

  3. This is such a great book, one of my favourites from the last couple of years. Do you know she published a Kindle novella a couple of days ago, Here Be Dragons? It elaborates on the subplot in this one relating to Mark Joesbury, and it’s excellent. Review tomorrow…

  4. Kathy D.

    I enjoyed learning about Lacey Flint, but thought this book was not enough in my ways.
    What really bothered me is that I felt there was insensitivity and lack of sympathy on the issue of gender identity, especially these days when traditional views are being turned on their heads. Also, lack of
    sensitivity on disabilities from birth. This annoyed me.
    Today gender identities are being challenged; people of various
    gender identifies are making this more fluid, and people with
    serious disabilities, including those that they are born with,
    are standing up for themselves and declaring their equality
    and rights.
    So, yes, I always read with my political goggles on and
    worry that this book perpetuates stereotypes on gender
    and disability. I wonder how the people in those
    communities feel about the book.

    • You raise an interesting point, Kathy. There are several issues of this kind addressed in the novel, and it’s interesting to speculate on what the members of those communities might have thought. And you’re not the only one who reads with political goggles on; I think a lot of people do.

  5. Kathy D.

    I agree with you that a lot of people read with political goggles on.
    Because I’m around people who have raised my consciousness on
    gender, gender identity and disability issues, I think about these
    issues more than I used to and I thank them for this. And I live
    in a city where there is a lot of activism on these matters.

    • There is definitely a lot of activism on those issues, Kathy, no doubt about that. And it can certainly serve as a source of more information and sometimes reflection and thinking.

  6. Once a homicide detective, always a homicide detective, it’d seem, I like the new crime fiction emerging out of the UK literary scene, particularly the police procedural that gives the reader an insight into homicide investigation and the cooperation between two or more police sleuths. Whatever happened to Scotland Yard? Interesting spotlight, Margot.

    • Thank you Prashant. And I think you’re quite right: once a homicide detective, always a homicide detective. Certainly Lacey Flint feels the pull. You make an interesting point, too, about the various police forces working together. They actually do that rather well here. We don’t see the ‘patch wars’ you sometime see in crime novels.

  7. I liked this one too Margo with its mix of myth, suspense, contemporary issues and of course some disturbing crimes.

  8. Another intriguing series I need to check out. Thanks, Margot. I always find such interesting books from you.

    • That’s kind of you, Mason. This really is a well-written series, I think, and I do like the Lacey Flint character. She’s layered and complex without being a caricature. If you read these novels, I hope you’ll enjoy them.

  9. I read the first novel and really enjoyed it. This one is still on my TBR-list.

  10. A Dark and Twisted Tale sounds like my kind of crime fiction. Adding it to the pile. Thanks, Margot!

  11. I think I have one of her books in the pile somewhere – I must find it!

  12. Pingback: Writing Links in the 3s and 5…4/11/16 – Where Worlds Collide

  13. The setting along the Thames sounds very interesting, Margot. I just finished a book from 1945 by Victor Bridges … Trouble on the Thames,

    • I know it sounds trite, but I think Bolton really brings the Thames to life in this one, Tracy. It adds a lot of atmosphere to the setting. And thanks for mentioning the Bridges. I need to check that out.

  14. Ben

    I just read this book and I have to say, I still don’t understand the ending with the two characters involved. I have read and re-read and it’s totally unclear to me what was happening (granted I read the book in fits and starts, so I sort of lost track of “the swimmer” “the killer” etc. I enjoy this series but this one left me scratching my head. Any chance you’d want to explain the end with the appropriate “spoiler alerts” notification? I know it’s been a few years–but after scouring the internet I can’t seem to find an explanation!

    • I won’t give spoilers, Ben. But I think you can get a lot from the letter that Lacey gets towards the end of the story. And remember what the writer of that letter was doing. That’ll help to partly explain things, I hope. Then, if you still have questions, follow that character’s activities during the last few chapters. I hope that helps, too.

  15. Ben

    Maybe you’d want to send me an email???…I think I get it, but I really am not too confident!

  16. Ben

    thank you!!!

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