Book review: Helfa by Llwyd Owen
With a Santes Dwynwen launch date, long time fans of Llwyd Owen’s novels could be forgiven for wondering if Helfa will prove to be a little more romantic than what they’ve come to expect from the prolific author.
Worry not though, as this return trip to Gerddi Hwyan doesn’t see Detective Sergeant Sally Morris spending every waking moment being wined and dined.
Although her personal life seems content enough and her mother Kitty is on hand to babysit one year old Efan when Sally and her partner Ben Marks go out for the evening, this is far from being the central driver of the novel.
If Sally’s personal life seems contented, her professional life leaves the ambitious detective feeling frustrated and unfulfilled, as though she’s merely going through the motions.
Weekly emails and pics from her former work partner Daf Benson (who’s relocated with his family to Australia) are of little help.
Indeed, things initially seem to have quietened down significantly since she successfully lead the investigation to catch a serial killer in “O Glust i Glust”.
But this being a novel by Llwyd Owen, Sally ought to be careful what she wishes for.
A quick word of warning to would be readers; this is most definitely not a self-contained novel. Events in “Rhedeg i Parys” and “O Glust i Glust” are often referenced.
The past is almost a character in its own right. In order to avoid spoilers, I’d strongly recommend reading both previous novels (which are excellent, by the way) before jumping into “Helfa”.
Things soon liven up. Sally and her new work partner, Tej Williams, get a call about a stolen dog “the third this month…and it’s only the 8th.”
In addition, a former resident of HMP Parc is back in Gerddi Hwyan and is out for revenge; Sally being one of a number of women he’s hunting.
During the course of the novel, we learn more about the would-be killer’s motivations.
Namely his unsuccessful past attempts at relationships with women and, in Sally’s case, he blames her most of all for him having spent five years locked up.
His shit list also includes other women he blames for his time behind bars.
As we read on, he takes steps to put his plans for revenge into action, even adding to the aforementioned list, becoming increasingly consumed by revenge as “Judgement Day” approaches.
There’s plenty going on here in addition to dognapping (which, contrary to initial impressions, doesn’t seem to be motivated by money, but something altogether more sinister) and a former prisoner filled with a lust for vengeance. Hels, a local taxi driver and Tej Williams’ partner, seems to have her hands full on several fronts.
Between her passengers (indeed, it’s Hels’ taxi which picks up the novel’s primary antagonist) looking after her friend Zoe (who struggles with a serious drug addiction), looking out for her neighbour Marie (whose partner, Charlie Morris, treats her like a human punch bag) and her family life (her father lives with dementia at the Gwel y Don care home, paid for by her dodgy brother Meical, his questionable career choice making Hels nervous about introducing him to Tej) Hels seems to have little time for herself, aside from a smoke of her vape between taxi fares.
Helfa was incredibly difficult to put down. Not least because the identity of the antagonist was difficult to pinpoint at first, being referred to initially as “the bearded man”, “Jâms” by his father & “Jay-Jay” by his mate, Cameron Cuffy.
I often found myself racking my brains trying to remember “Has Sally Morris had dealings with a ‘Jâms’ previously?”
We’re very much in Sally Morris’ corner from the start, wanting her to succeed, not only in catching the crooks but in fulfilling her ambitions, especially following harrowing events in previous instalments.
I did have a “For goodness sake Sally, what are you thinking??” moment when she was more than a little heavy handed with a criminal, leading to a warning from her superior that any further actions along those lines could put her hopes of a promotion in jeopardy.
As I neared the conclusion, the tension ramped up significantly, making her earlier transgression the least of Sally’s worries.
Helfa is without a doubt another must read courtesy of Llwyd Owen.
Helfa by Llwyd Owen is published by Y Lolfa and is available from all good bookshops.
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