Jo Fletcher Books, p/b, 400pp, Â£7.99
Reviewed by Carl Barker
Fairy Tales seem to be the order of the day at the moment, with not one but two new releases concerned with the stories we told each other as children. But whereas Pinboroughâ€™s Poison is a modern reworking of one particular tale, Littlewoodâ€™s novel instead takes the whole tableau of fairy tales as the MO for a particularly sadistic serial killer in modern day Yorkshire.
The story concentrates on two female leads, PC Cate Corbin and fairy tale expert Alice Hyland â€“ the former responsible for bringing the latter into an ongoing police investigation when schoolgirl Chrissie Farrell is found brutally murdered and made to resemble Snow White. As the body count climbs, suspicion begins to fall on Alice herself, given her extensive knowledge of the history and meaning behind each of the tales, as well as her characterâ€™s slow hardening towards the horrors she is asked to advise on. Cate meanwhile, must contend with proving herself in the eyes of her superiors whilst attempting to decipher the killerâ€™s nefarious game.
OK, so the themed serial killer plot is nothing new to most seasoned crime readers, but where Littlewood makes the most of her skills is in the visceral nature of the horror she imbues into the description of each murder scene, as well as the clearly extensive research she has conducted into the variations of each fairy tale that have been documented throughout the history of many cultures. The characters are believable and the dialogue clear, bringing a good sense of realism to the proceedings, and on more than one occasion, I found myself squirming as each crime scene is unfurled.
Path of Needles is a great page-turner and by the time I reached the last quarter of the book, I absolutely could not put it down, forced to stay up late until Iâ€™d discovered the killerâ€™s identity. This will appeal to fans of both horror and crime, and on the strength of this sophomore novel, Littlewood is going to be very big indeed.