‘An Early Grave’ rolls three mysteries into one

When I selected Rober McCracken’s “An Early Grave,” I wasn’t expecting three intriguing mysteries rolled into one, but that’s what I got.

DI Tara Grogan looks more like a teenager than an experienced police officer but her inner strength more than makes up for her size. Ten years ago, the corpse of a newborn baby was found in a shallow grave beneath an oak tree. The child was dubbed “Baby Isis,” the case was never solved and a small plaque now marks the place he was found.

A few years later Callum Armour and his friend Jian are rushing to finish their work on detecting deliberate food contamination before Callum must leave to pack for a week away with his wife Tilly and daughter Emily. He has no way of knowing that his wife and child have been pushed into the path of an oncoming train. As he waits at the train station, he discovers a card offering sympathy for the death of his wife, The police rule the death accidental, but Callum knows it was murder.

Years later, Callum lives in squalor refusing to wash or clean up the house that once belonged to his parents. Area ‘toughs’ throw all manner of refuse at his house, break windows and spray it with graffiti. Callum is so deep in his misery that he doesn’t bother to react.

As the story opens DI Grogan and her team are on Treadwater Estates. investigating the death of a young woman in a house only doors away from where Callum lives. As Tara questions him, she is certain that he knows more than he is willing to share and eventually sees that he’ll share information about the dead girl only if Tara agrees to help him investigate the death of his wife and daughter as well as the deaths of two college classmates.

Tara doesn’t believe Callum’s claim that James Kingsly murdered his family and the others, but she goes along with his theory in order to get information on the girl’s death. It is a torturous ordeal. Little by little Tara learns that the girl was Audra. She was Lithuanian and worked at a local hotel. Apparently, she is earning extra cash by participating in making pornographic films.

As she struggles to find leads to the murder Tara finds herself more and more entangled in Callum’s theories. Eventually, they work together and a picture begins to emerge. Callum, Tilly, Georgina, Peter, Jian, Charlotte, Anthony and James were all students and friends at Oxford.

During a ski trip to Austria James simply walked out of the pub and disappeared. Callum is convinced that something happened that night to trigger James to reappear and begin killing people in that friend circle. Tara’s first priority is finding Audra’s killer. Using intuition and careful observation she flushes out the culprit. That capture also solves Callum’s vandalism problem. Sadly, the death toll now includes Tilly, Peter, Jian and Charlotte.

A reunion offers her the chance to confront those she considers possible suspects. A question-and-answer time with the uber-successful Georgina soon reveals more than expected. In short, while still in college Georgina gave birth, then killed and buried the child. James was certain it was his baby and used the knowledge to blackmail Georgina. He didn’t realize how far she would go to protect her empire.

Georgina had no qualms about pushing Tilly’s car onto the tracks, or killing Peter, Jian and Charlotte. When the confrontation happens, they learn that the baby had been Callum’s. In his attempt to disarm Georgina, both she and Callum drown. Tara is pleased to be pregnant with Callum’s baby and ready to take on whatever comes, setting up book two in the series.