The Playground Murders by Lesley Thomson

When Clean Slate is awarded the contract to clean the scene of a vicious crime, owner Stella Darnell finds herself in the position to put more things right than the site. She’s not just a cleaner, Stella and her partner, Jack, are private detectives.

When the daughter of the man convicted of the murder of his mistress hires the duo, Stella soon discovers the murder may be linked to a famous child-murder case from 40 years before. The homicide was one of Stella’s father’s cases–the late Detective Inspector Terry Darnell.

Jack’s uncanny ability to identify those he calls “True Hosts” – people who’ve committed murder, or will–now introduces him to raw fear, as their investigation puts Stella, and possibly his own children, face-to-face with evil.

Stella and Jack are again joined by vivacious tabloid reporter Lucie May. The journalist wasn’t just DI Darnell’s lover; May interviewed the child arrested for the old murder of 6-year-old Sarah Ferris at the time. And, now she’s determined to unmask the child, now-adult, killer.

Stella searches her father’s old case records and is disturbed and conflicted by the discovery of letters penned by the child-turned-killer, whose obsession with DI Darnell apparently hasn’t waned in adulthood. Stella and Jack are soon reminded that the deadliest of secrets lurk closest to home, and innocence is the first thing to go.

When we first met Stella and Jack in The Detective’s Daughter, they seemed the most unlikely of couples to ultimately end up together. The beauty of their relationship–and the series–is that the author has taken her time building not only their attraction and attachment, but the characters themselves.

Jack is one of the most compelling characters I’ve come across. Through the series, readers have traveled alongside him as he’s grown from a troubled, confused young man, marred by his mother’s murder when he was child, to the devoted father of young twins. Jack now finds himself forced to accept sharing his children’s lives with his ex-partner’s new love. And, he’s navigating the minefield of true love with all the insecurities, sacrifices and joy that brings.

In addition to writing two exceptionally interesting characters in Stella and Jack, Thomson’s inclusion of DI Darnell’s point of view would be a risk in less-adept hands. Writing a story that takes readers back and forth in time is difficult. It either works well, or is confusing and irritating to readers. Thomson is a master. The inclusion of Stella’s father’s actions and take on his cases–now his daughter’s–is a wonderful and clever addition to the series.