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by John Connor
Orion, February 2006
320 pages
ISBN: 0752872737

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John Connor, former Yorkshire barrister and one of Orion's New Blood authors, made an impact with his first Karen Sharpe novel, PHOENIX which he followed up with THE PLAYROOM. Karen Sharpe features once again in A CHILD'S GAME, another tale set in Yorkshire. Karen and her daughter Mairead are deeply submerged in undercover work in this adventure, both of them in dire peril and both of them injured in the course of duty.

The narrative begins shockingly with a hired killer, Stijn, together with an associate, Akhtar, engineering the murder of a man later identified as property developer Nicholas Hanley. The body was doused with petrol and pushed from a penthouse in Leeds, crashing to the ground aflame, while one floor of the dwelling also burns.

Hanley's lover Anna Hart and her daughter Rachel are supposed to meet Hanley at a surprise location where they will be able to see in the year 2000. It is New Year's Eve and Anna and Rachel are kidnapped from a taxi. The kidnapper kills the driver when the latter attempts to intervene in the kidnapping.

A former friend of Karen Sharpe, Liz Hodges, is woken at 4.35am by people purporting to be from the Witness Protection scheme wanting to know the whereabouts of Sharpe and her daughter. They insist that they are anxious about Sharpe's safety and must locate her and her daughter in order to protect them. Liz is unable to help them and her boyfriend, formerly Karen's, Pete Bains, has no more idea of Karen's whereabouts than Liz.

While the unsuccessful hunt for Karen and Mairead continues, Anna and Rachel are taken to meet Stijn, at whose hands they suffer awful abuse when they are unable (or, in Stijn's eyes unwilling) to tell him where Nicholas Hanley may be. Anna is bewildered since they have heard that Nicholas is dead, a possible suicide and she knows Stijn has heard the same thing.

DS Bains is given the task of locating Anna and Rachel but finds that his superiors suddenly wish to keep him at a distance from the case, a wish Bains disregards.

Connor calls on his considerable professional experience to conjure up credible baddies in this outing. His knowledge of those police who work undercover gives him an advantage in portraying Karen Sharpe's struggles with identity as well as his creation of believable crime scenarios.

The author has reportedly denied gratuitous violence in his works. Perhaps this is so but I could wish he did not portray it in quite such loving detail as he does. He certainly depicts a number of horrifying scenes in this mystery. His protagonist, sworn to uphold the law, pragmatically goes about her business, breaking laws all over the place as she strives for ultimate justice.

I have no difficulty in believing Connor's characters' criminal schemes nor the way they are carried out. I did, however, find considerable difficulty in believing an 11-year-old girl could submerge her own personality under a false name and never, in nearly two years, let drop a hint of her own or her mother's true identity . Certainly, no 11-year-old of my acquaintance would be able to sustain such a deception.

Connor has plotted an excellent, if brutal, mystery, one which excites the sympathy of the reader for his deeply troubled heroine. It will be interesting to follow the adventures of Karen Sharpe in Connor's future books.

Reviewed by Denise Pickles, May 2006

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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