Judas Horse by Lynda La Plante

Publisher/Year: Zaffre/2021

Publisher description

Not all killers can be tamed… The thrilling second book in the Sunday Times bestselling Detective Jack Warr crime series. 

Wild mustangs are difficult to rope, their lead stallion wary and protective of his herd. To capture that special stallion takes time. He is separated, roped, and lead back to the ranch. Once tamed, he is sent back into the wild. And before long, he will lead the entire herd back to the ranch. He is given the name ‘Judas Horse’. When Detective Jack Warr identifies an informer, the terrified man begins to give details of a massive robbery planned by a team of unscrupulous and dangerous men. These men have already orchestrated many audacious robberies, leaving terrified victims in their wake. And they have already killed to get what they want. Detective Jack Warr and his team must use their informant as a ‘Judas Horse’ to draw in the unsuspecting robbers, so that they go ahead with the planned robbery. However, one false move, and more blood will be spilled . . .


Reviewer: Robyn Walton

Since the start of the 1980s Lynda La Plante has been an extraordinary creative force in crime writing for screen and page. It’d be a rare Sisters in Crime member who hasn’t settled in front of the tele to watch an episode of one of her dramas or sat up too late turning the pages of one of her novels. 

On tv La Plante got off to a brilliant start in the UK with her Widows series in the early 80s, followed by the Prime Suspect series in the early 90s, and more after that. In books, she began with The Legacy in 1987. Several series followed, including the Lorraine Page ‘Cold’ series (begun 1994) and the Anna Travis series, plus standalone novels, and shorter fictions.

Now, 40 years along, La Plante is still at it. Since last year (2020) she has been promoting her seven-part factual podcast on crime scene investigation (Listening to the Dead) as well as the sixth novel in her Jane Tennison series (Blunt Force), with a seventh novel (Unholy Murder) on the way. And this year saw the release of a new novel, The Judas Horse, the second instalment in La Plante’s recently started Jack Warr series.

The Warr books are police procedurals, with their hero detective young enough to have many cases ahead of him, provided La Plante’s readership warms to him. Book one, Buried, was well liked by most Goodreads reviewers, averaging a score of just over 4 stars out of 5. With the Goodreads star rating for book two, Judas Horse, even higher so far, La Plante looks to be onto yet another crowd pleaser.

Jack Warr is a “strikingly attractive” man who is still figuring out his best way forward as a cop. As Judas Horse gets underway, he is a DS (Detective Sergeant) based in London at the Met. His partner, Maggie, is a hospital medico and very close to giving birth to her and Jack’s first child. The two have recently moved to a “lovely” part of suburban Twickenham and are living in a three-storey terrace house that’s a doer-upper, with Jack’s widowed mother occupying one floor and helping Maggie prepare for the baby.

Soon the baby arrives safely and Jack heads off on a short-term assignment in the scenic Cotswolds. It’s thought the experience he gained in book one, relating to break-ins in Wimbledon, should be useful in helping solve a string of burglaries affecting the Cotswolds region’s more affluent householders and their “chocolate-box houses”. For many owners, these are secondary residencies; they are celebrities, professionals and upper echelon types who live and work in London and visit their Cotswolds houses to relax, play at hobby farming, or join in local activities such as the annual equestrian event and the charity buffet preceding it.   

For me, all of this felt contrived: to tug on heart strings, offer wish-fulfilment, and establish the groundwork for a telegenic series. At the same time, it must be said La Plante goes on to deliver an interesting story of the puzzling “how will the police catch the crims?” variety. 

Jack and his colleagues are up against a clever, organised gang. Burglaries are usually carried out when householders are absent, meaning few people have yet been seriously distressed or injured; however, that could change. After investigating locally, Jack goes undercover (cue changes of clothes, and other shenanigans), and police plan a sting to upset an especially audacious plan to rob multiple properties at one time. If you haven’t previously encountered the notion of a “Judas horse”, you’ll learn what this means as the cops deploy a person as their Judas horse.

Overall, this novel doesn’t represent La Plante in top form, and it’s not a compelling read, but it’s still  better structured and written than many policing yarns on offer.