‘One-Way Tickets’ – Willows and Lane #2 by Peter Grainger

When a local man, a veteran of the war in Afghanistan, goes missing, his parents have good reason to be concerned. Emily Willows is a friend of the family and says that she knows just the person to find him – and, as Summer Lane soon points out, the fact that this also fits in with Emily’s plan to set up her very own detective agency is surely just a fortuitous coincidence. But it isn’t long before the former detective inspector finds herself on a train heading back to London, and back into situations that she thought she had left behind. Some old acquaintances are renewed and some difficult memories must be confronted as Lane searches for the missing soldier and discovers the shocking truth about what happened to him five years earlier.

‘One-Way Tickets’ was a slightly disappointing book. Parts of it really shine but I was left with the feeling of having read something that, with another few passes to tighten up the narrative and round out a couple of the characters, could have been a very strong novel.

The first book in this series ‘Lane’ was a tense, action-packed story that was enriched by having two very different women, Willows and Lane, having to find a way to work together to survive.

‘One-Way Tickets’ picks up the story of these two women but in a tentative way, as if Peter Grainger couldn’t quite decide what to do with them now that the threat to their lives has passed. This might have come off as a realistic post-adrenalin-rush kind of reaction if the writing had been sharper but I found the use of shifting points of view distracting. It kept me at arms-length from the characters and made me feel that I was reading an outline rather than a novel.

Everything changed for the better once Lane got to London. The emotional focus was clearly on her and it was amplified by the similarities between the trauma in Lane’s past and in the past of the man she set out to find. Her search for the missing man worked well, building both the tension and my understanding of who Lane had been before an unlooked-for change in her life had taken her out of the Met and into a quiet cottage in a small Cornish village.

The best scenes in the book where the confrontation between Lane and the gang threatening the family the man she was searching for has come to London to protect. The action scenes worked and there was just the right amount of ‘waiting-anxiously-for-something-bad-to-happen’ time to allow backstories to be shared and bonds to be built. The trauma in the young ex-soldier’s life was shared with empathy and care, putting the emphasis on the emotional impact while not backing off from sharing the gruesome details.

What disappointed me were the things that were left hanging: I’d like to have seen more of the ex-soldier whose family was under threat. He is introduced in a way that piqued my interest and then gets side-lined by the plot and disappears. In a similar way, it felt as if the links back to Willows in Cornwall were a necessary conceit to keep this story as part of a ‘Willows and Lane’ series but that Peter Grainger really wanted to focus only on Lane and the ex-soldier she was sent to find.

If I hadn’t read anything else by Peter Grainger, I’d have marked ‘One-Way Tickets’ as an interesting read written by a writer with potential, but the other books I’ve read by him make ‘One-Way Tickets’ seem incomplete – something more than a sketch but less than a completed painting.

Still, I had a good enough time that I’m going to read the third and final book in the series: ‘Arcadia’.

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