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by John Baker
Orion, February 2003
314 pages
16.99 GBP
ISBN: 0752856626

THE MEANEST FLOOD is the sixth book in the Sam Turner series by John Baker. Business is rather slow until Turner's first ex-wife is found murdered. The police feel that Turner is the ideal suspect and refuse to look any further. This hypothesis gains validity, as another ex-girlfriend of Turner's is found dead, especially since the only connection these two deaths have is Turner (and the actual murderer). The murderer is also setting Turner up for the fall by planting obvious clues and manipulating Turner so he is at the scenes of the crimes. Turner is determined to protect these women from his past, regardless of the cost. Can he prevent future murders and elude the police long enough to achieve this goal? Or will he be arrested and the rest of the women murdered?

It is always impressive to see a talented writer continue to grow through his or her books. Baker's writing development is apparent as one compares his first novel, POET IN THE GUTTER, with his latest, THE MEANEST FLOOD. His characters have gained more depth, while remaining interesting and individualistic, and his actual writing style is tighter and the passages flow better. Baker has the rare ability to create a story and characters that continue to exist once the book is finished.

This book has several quirky characters, including the murderer. Even though the majority of characters have serious problems, everyone is described in a very British self-deprecating tone. The detective agency employees are treated in this manner throughout the series, but there are some interesting additions with this book. Marilyn has a serious mental illness but it is impossible to see her as anything but a mostly harmless fruitcake. And the killer is just as unusual. From the beginning, the reader knows who the murderer is; yet, does not gain his motivation until the last third of the book. Without going into too many details, the killer does match the profile of a serial killer but his motive is reminiscent of a 'normal' single murder killer.

THE MEANEST FLOOD is the most introspective mystery of the series. As the killer tracks down each of Turner's past loves, Sam relives the feelings and emotions of his previous life. Turner has had a string of bad relationships and marriages, all of which ended due to him, at least in his mind. By remembering his former lovers, Turner reevaluates his past and his present. Does he want his current relationship to work out? Can he accept the man he once was? Where does he draw the line on his guilt for past mistakes? As Turner completes his soul searching, one can only empathize.

THE MEANEST FLOOD is a strong addition to the Sam Turner series. This book satisfies the majority of reading tastes. It has interesting characters, a strong plot line, some violence but nothing over the top and has the ability to keep one interested. THE MEANEST FLOOD is a must read for any fan of British mysteries!

Reviewed by Sarah Dudley, February 2003

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