The Vincent family is set to enjoy some downtime at their Mudeford Sandbank beach hut, near Christchurch Harbour in Dorset, England. It doesn't take long for a shocking, brutal murder to disturb this tranquil setting in Sandman by author Ian Kingsley.
We meet Paul Vincent, his wife, Sasha, and their 13-year-old daughter, Leah, at a windsurfing lesson. We quickly learn how Sasha's flirting brings out the worst in Paul. Paul finds himself apologizing for a jealous outburst directed at the windsurf instructor. The point-of-view switches to actress Carol Davis recalling her horrifying rape on the beach not far from the Vincent's hut by a man wearing a balaclava. This two-pronged opening with a peaceful beach scene and a violent assault in the opening chapter hooked me instantly.
It has been said that good fiction must have conflict. Kingsley has included enough conflict here for two novels. An incident on the beach puts Paul at odds with a young disturbed loner, a man named Stevie Clarke. Clarke, known by the locals as "The Sandman" doesn't do well with confrontation. His resentment boils; he produces a large knife and aggressively warns Paul, "I'll kill you the next time you cross me." A short time after a jogger is killed, Paul informs the police that he believes Clarke is the killer. Clarke is desperate to get even with Paul for putting the police on him and he begins to stalk Leah relentlessly.
The police appear inept in their effort to catch the killer despite an obvious connection to the previous rape on the beach. Carol Davis contacts Paul and soon the pair are working together to prove to the police Stevie Clark is the killer/rapist. Leah's attempt to help with the investigation only serves to muddy her father's work when she hands over evidence that implicates Paul as the murderer to the detectives.
Sandman touches our primary emotions: jealousy, guilt, love, fear, hatred, and grief. As a father, I related to Paul's unwavering commitment to keep his family safe. I also understood his discomfort with his wife's tendency to flirt openly with men. Kingsley has written an intriguing mystery/psychological thriller with interesting, believable and well-developed characters. There are twists, turns, red herrings, and a healthy dose of hair-raising fear and suspense to keep even the most fickle reader captivated. The dialogue is authentic, and, along with the scene-painting narrative, you'll feel like you're on the beach witnessing the unfolding action.
Just when you think you have it all sorted out, the author changes directions--successfully keeping you guessing until the final pages. When you begin Sandman make sure you set aside a good bit of time, for you won't stop reading until the last page is savored. Highly recommended to readers who enjoy a great mystery!