In 2018 a new series of books was unleashed to crime fiction readers by M. W. Craven featuring Detective Sergeant Washington Poe and his partner in solving crime, Tilly Bradshaw. The Washington Poe series has been a massive hit and now book number five in the series has been released, The Botanist. If you are looking for cozy crime, then the Poe series is NOT for you, with murders at times described in graphic detail.
With four full best-selling novels and a couple of novellas under his hat, M. W. Craven has released the fifth instalment in this very popular series – The Botanist. And for me, despite no gruesome murders in this one, this has to be the best in the series yet – intriguing storyline, exciting characters and packed with tension, twists and humour.
Detective Sergeant Washington Poe is a tough, dark, cynical and stubborn detective who works for the SCAS (Serious Crime Analysis Section), a department within the UK’s National Crime Agency (NCA) – they investigate cases that are bizarre or difficult that no one else wants. Based in Cumbria, he lives a reclusive life in a 200 year old shepherd’s croft on the most desolate moorland in Cumbria with his beloved dog Edgar.
Mathilda “Tilly” Bradshaw is a socially awkward and quite sheltered civilian analyst with a genius-level IQ but who has no filter between her thoughts, inappropriate questions, observations and her mouth. Very gifted, intelligent and innocent. She is one of Poe’s very few trusted friends.
In The Botanist Poe has two time-sensitive cases to investigate. Both complicated and both will put him, Tilly and the rest of the team to the ultimate test.
The first case is personal. When his friend Estelle Doyle, a forensic pathologist, is arrested for the murder of her father he drops everything to help. With compelling evidence against her, Poe has to try and prove her innocence in what appears to be a locked room mystery.
His second case is his most difficult to date. Some nasty prominent people are being poisoned (misogynists, the corrupt, racist and the morally bankrupt – people who you feel are worthy objects of a serial killer’s affections), even whilst under police protection! The press has named this new serial killer as The Botanist as he is sending high profile celebrities poems and pressed flowers giving them advance notice of their impending death and once they receive their death letter, death is inevitable as they have been poisoned with naturally occurring toxins. The killer leaves no evidence and can seemingly walk through walls and the police have no clues – another locked room mystery.
Overall, this is a really interesting and enjoyable read. Once I picked it up and started reading, I had real trouble putting it down and read it in just over a day. As well as a featuring another rather unique serial killer as Mr Craven is very good at creating, it also features a lot more subtle humour with breast milk, buying Tilly’s toenails, giving tramps a hand and erectile dysfunction all making hilarious appearances that add some light-hearted humour to a tale of serial murder – and it works extremely well!
The Botanist is a wonderful story of a serial killer that murders from afar. The story is so well-written that Poe’s two investigations weave together extremely well without you feeling like you are reading two different stories – the writing is seamless. There are clues along the way, but answers are only divulged when the author feels it is right for the story. The built-up tension is released with ease throughout the story with light-hearted fun, some bits made me laugh out loud, the delivery is perfectly timed.
Whilst it does have an excellent storyline, as with the other books in the series, it is the characters that really drive and make the story. The main protagonists, Poe and Tilly, are the real driving force throughout the book – very real feeling individuals that you can relate to and can’t help liking (Tilly is still my favourite with her innocent mannerisms and no-nonsense language) but all the characters that M. W. Craven are excellent. The victims are all horrible people and have been written in such a vile way that you dislike them as soon as they are introduced. Estelle Doyle is just brilliant and I’m glad that she had a bigger role to play in this book. All his characters feel very authentic and just get better in each book and the unlikely friendship between Poe and Tilly is a joy to read.
The Botanist is absolutely brilliant – tense, funny, intriguing, witty and puzzling. It travels along at a good rate and never feels rushed to a conclusion; it is a well-paced excellent read.
Definitely a very easy 5* book that will entertain and delight.
RRP: £16.99 (Hardback) / £7.99 (Paperback) / £4.49 (Kindle)