In Bitter Chill arrives with encomiums from a respected trio of writers (Yrsa Sigurdardóttir, William Ryan and Chris Newman), and this impressive crime debut is the work of Sarah Ward – a writer best known as for the website Crime Pieces and as one of the Petrona Award judges for translated Scandinavian crime fiction. It’s a debut that hits ground running, showing that the author has the measure of the exigencies of the police procedural and (more importantly) the conflicted psychology of her characters. The novel begins in Derbyshire 1978, with the disappearance of two young girls. One of them, Rachel Jones, returns, her memory of events fogged, and lives on to become a central character in the narrative. Her companion Sophie Jenkins is never found. 30 years pass, and the suicide of the missing girl’s mother sets in train a new events which will have significant consequences for the damaged Rachel.

While it is true to say that Sarah Ward does nothing radical with the apparatus of the crime novel, she proves to be highly adept at characterisation – notably of the unhappy Rachel — and passes with flying colours the test of making her team of coppers distinctive and vividly characterised. The dénouement, too, is unlikely to be guessed even by diehard aficionados of the crime fiction genre. On the evidence of In Bitter Chill, it’s clear that Sarah Ward has a bright future in the crime genre.

In Bitter Chill by Sarah Ward is published by Faber

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