Published by: Penguin (2nd July 2015)
Source: Real Readers
The murder of a first-year university student shocks the city of Durham. The victim, Emily Brabents, was from the privileged and popular set at Joyce College, a cradle for the country's future elite.
As Detective Inspector Erica Martin investigates the college, she finds a close-knit community fuelled by jealousy, obsession and secrets. But the very last thing she expects is an instant confession . . .
The picture of Emily that begins to emerge is that of a girl wanted by everyone, but not truly known by anyone. Anyone, that is, except Daniel Shepherd. Her fellow student, ever-faithful friend and the only one who cares. The only one who would do anything for her . . .
I enjoy reading debut novels as you never quite know what you are going to get. Much of my reading this year has been debut crime by female authors, many of them fantastic books, with the authors fast becoming my new favourites. When Bitter Fruits landed on my bookshelf, I was eager to see whether Alice Clark-Platts could compete with her peers.
Unlike some books of this genre that give background on characters for the first couple of chapters, the very first words of Bitter Fruits tell us that a body has been found; Clark-Platts gets straight to the point, urging the reader to make use of their detective skills straight away.
Who had died? Was it murder? What happened? Is there a killer on the loose? The reason I read so many crime novels is to see if I can work out 'whodunit' and I suspect I'm not alone. My interest was immediately piqued the moment the body was revealed.
Next, we meet recently promoted Detective Inspector Erica Martin. Transferred from Newcastle to head up Durham's Major Crime unit, Martin needs to validate her position by solving this case, quickly.
Martin was a bit of a slow burner for me. I didn't immediately like her, but by the end of the book I felt like she was an old friend. The slightly vulnerable side of her regarding her position, combined with her believability, won through.
The story is told from two perspectives, Erica's and an unnamed person. On the whole, this worked very well; that they are in different fonts makes it easy to know who is behind each chapter. There was a tiny bit of inconsistency, but that matters not in the grand scheme of things.
The timely inclusion of cyber bullying adds another dimension to the plot, but the way it is approached doesn't give the reader much reason to empathise with victim Emily. I feel this was a missed opportunity to a certain extent. As Martin and second-in-command DS Jones are both women, I would have preferred a more sympathetic approach.
There are so many red herrings on the way to finding out who killed Emily. When the murderer's identity is finally revealed, it was such a shock! I was not expecting that!
An impressive debut from Clark-Platts and a realistic DI in Erica Martin. The start of a terrific series? I look forward to finding out.