I generally like my crime fiction to be either classic Golden Age stuff (I’m a huge Dorothy L. Sayers fan) or a bit silly. I’m still hoping that Jasper Fforde will write more in the brilliant Nursery Crimes series – it took the mickey out of all the clichés of crime fiction and finally answered the vital question of whether gingerbread is a cake or a biscuit – and am planning to work my way through Ian Sansom’s County Guides book. Of course I also enjoy a good historical sleuth, like C. J. Sansom’s Matthew Shardlake or Ariana Franklin’s Adelia Vesuvia, and I’m not immune to the lure of a psychological thriller like Gone Girl and the Widow. Oddly, what I don’t read much of is traditional, gritty, detective novels. I read a couple of Jo Nesbo novels, the Big Sleep (for our book group) and a couple of Donna Leon’s Brunetti stories but not much else. But, at Harpercollins’ recent Big Book Bonanza, I had a copy of a crime novel pressed into my hand (while in the presence of the author, ex-policeman and Bill writer, Paul Finch). In these circumstances it would be rude not to, surely?
The author gave a bit of a talk about the background to the story – he was moving away from his usual character Mark Heckenberg and the fictional National Crime Group to write about a young female officer in Manchester – and, I have to admit, I was intrigued. I know Manchester reasonably well and the officer, PC Lucy Clayburn sounded like an interesting character.
The story gripped from the beginning as we meet Lucy (in a sort of prologue), a very young officer who makes a near fatal mistake while left in charge of a dangerous prisoner. Her ambition is to be a detective and this seems to have scuppered her chances for advancement. Ten years later she hopes to impress and resurrect her career by getting involved in the search for a very unusual murderer – a female serial killer. This is dangerous work, involving going undercover among the street prostitutes of the North-West and, potentially, contact with the biggest names in the Manchester underworld. In the end, however, it is the secrets Lucy discovers about her own family which could be the most dangerous.
I really enjoyed this book. The plot was nicely convoluted, the characters were well-defined and the action fairly rattled along. I particularly liked the way that female officers were shown in both junior and senior roles – and that they were shown to have as many flaws as their male colleagues. If you enjoy a fast-paced, northern detective story with lots of gruesome detail then I think I can recommend Paul Finch to you…