Author: Claire Askew
Published: March 2022 by Hodder & Stoughton
Category: Police Procedural, Crime, Thriller
At 8am the first shots are fired.
At 1pm, the police establish the gunman has a hostage.
By 5pm, a siege is underway.
At 9pm, DI Helen Birch walks, alone and unarmed, into an abandoned Borders farmhouse to negotiate with the killer.
One day. One woman. One chance to get everyone out alive.
An intriguing prologue precedes a tense story that spans twenty four hours, told in hourly chapters. DI Helen Birch begins the day on a positive note. She had the morning off, it was a warm sunny day and she planned to visit her brother who was serving time in HMP Low Moss. To add to that she had a date with her lawyer partner, Anjan Chaudry that evening.
In the car park at Low Moss, she hears a breaking news item on the radio. The Scottish Borders Police have received reports of an incident just outside Kelso. Shots have been fired at a show ground where an annual show is being held. The man has been identified as Gerald Hodgson who also did time at Low Moss.
If you’re reading this, then I’ve already set off. Perhaps you’re reading this later, and I’ve already done it. Perhaps there are people saying bad things about me — they might even be spreading lies. So if you’ve come to this page looking for what really happened, here’s some truth for you.
If you’re friends with me on here, then you know what I did back in 2001. You know that I went to jail for it, and you know that I served five years. I still maintain I was jailed for doing the right thing, for being a good person, for trying to help.
The unfolding incident in the Scottish borders escalates with several people injured and others hospitalised, the gunman still at large. Helen is drawn into the resulting desperate hostage situation as the Edinburgh police are called in for support. And as Hodgson’s back story becomes apparent he garners a measure of sympathy for what he went through, the treatment he received in and after prison and how it still affects him.
Because the story takes place in a short space of time, and the fact that Helen has no hostage negotiator training, means the tension and sense of urgency is ongoing. She realizes that the wrong word at the wrong time could have terrible repercussions. Witnessing the situation from the perspective of the police and family members also adds to the drama.
A Matter of Time is an emotional and multi layered story, the underlying thread concerning the devastating foot and mouth epidemic of 2001. It’s difficult to imagine the horror and long lasting effects such a traumatic time had on the communities and individuals involved. Claire Askew has cleverly woven that fact into the story, which is extremely thought provoking and emotive. Being in the situation she finds herself helps Helen to be more tolerant of her father, with whom she has a complex relationship. There were several ways this could have played out but I didn’t expect the final outcome.
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