SHE LIES IN WAIT. By Gytha Lodge. Random House. 350 pages. $27.
It doesn’t take a detective to see that British murder mysteries have captivated American audiences since the Victorian era. Just scroll through your favorite streaming service and you’ll find a plethora of police and private detectives sleuthing away at case after case. “She Lies In Wait,” author Gytha Lodge’s debut, adds a compelling new character to the canon’s long list of British detectives.
When the body of a teenage girl is found 30 years after she was reported missing, Jonah Sheens reopens a case he worked as a young police officer and investigates his classmates all over again, this time for murder. But Jonah is no Sherlock Holmes or Hercule Poirot. He is a detective chief inspector with the Southampton Police force and surrounds himself with a support team of investigators. And instead of having to wait for him to explain his deductions to a subordinate, the reader gets Jonah’s deductions as he makes them.
It’s refreshing to be aligned with the detective instead of two steps behind, as in a Poirot or Holmes story. The reader feels like an active participant in the case, and Lodge is able to give insight into Jonah’s character.
While Lodge focuses most of the narrative attention on Jonah and Detective Constable Juliette Hanson, every character is fully sketched out, from the investigative team to the suspects to the little girl who discovers the body in what is basically a perfect cold open. While the ensemble of suspects falls neatly into familiar archetypes, this customary choice doesn’t feel out of place in a procedural detective story.
What does feel innovative is the narrative’s structure. Lodge alternates chapters between the members of the present-day investigative team and the victim in the hours leading up to her murder. This makes both the victim and Sheens main characters, allowing Lodge to build and release tension in an interesting way.
The present-day chapters are hyper-specific in both time and location. Characters not only reference social media sites by name and use digital lingo like “tag herself” but also use British wording and phrases like “sports kit” to cement the story in its setting.
The one misstep Lodge makes is a subplot in which a younger Jonah might have sexually assaulted a girl while at school. While it does add tension, it also feels empty because it’s hard to believe that the main character in a proposed series, written by a woman, is a rapist.
But as a whole, Lodge’s “She Lies In Wait” is a tense, engaging and satisfying murder mystery. It feels more substantial than a standard procedural detective drama but is still easy to read. The story stands alone but lays the groundwork for future books. The characters have room to grow. Fans of both the BBC’s “Poirot” and “Midsomer Murders” shows will enjoy this latest addition to the British murder mysteries canon.