Wendy Percival’s Blood-Tied is a mystery centered on family origins. Esme Quintin rushes to the hospital where her sister, Elizabeth, lies in a coma after being attacked in a park. Witnesses had seen Elizabeth arguing with a man beforehand. The police return Elizabeth’s locket to Esme, and inside are photos of two strangers. Esme, a researcher with unquenchable curiosity, sets out to discover who they are and who put her sister in hospital. She soon learns that Elizabeth is her adopted sister and Elizabeth’s true origin might have everything to do with the attack.
Percival creates some distinctive characters. Esme intrigues me with her quiet determination and unexplained scar. Polly, an old woman whom Elizabeth had been helping, is altogether believable in her fright and anguish. The villain is a nasty piece of work; anyone involved in a disputed inheritance will recognize his type. Other characters could be more fully developed. Esme’s niece, Gemma, comes off as a sulky whiner whose behavior can be excused only because she’s under stress. The story requires that I care what happens to her, but I don’t.
The plot holds together well but occasionally seems contrived. At times Gemma’s opposition to her aunt appears to have no motive other than creating another complication. The police return Elizabeth’s locket and handbag to her sister, who was most likely attacked and now lies in a comma. Wouldn’t they keep the items as evidence and test them for fingerprints? No, because Esme must find the photos in the locket and the keys inside the bag.
Percival’s prose is economical and unpretentious, and she writes effective dialogue. I just wish she trusted her writing more. She inserts explanations as if afraid readers wouldn’t get the story otherwise. I cringe at statements like this: “For Esme it was the first step on what would prove to be a strange and bewildering journey.” Even though the story has only begun, Percival has done her work well enough that I already suspect that Esme will encounter things strange and bewildering. I don’t have to be told. When Esme goes to interview a witness, Percival writes: “He gave no indication as to whether her second visit in such a short time was an imposition. He received her well enough.” The preliminary summary undermines the drama of the scene that follows.
Quite a few mystery readers ought to enjoy Blood-Tied despite its flaws. The backstory of Elizabeth’s birth family is engrossing, and the story culminates in an exciting scene that won’t distress anyone with graphic violence.