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by Christina James
Salt Publishing, November 2012
352 pages
8.99 GBP
ISBN: 190777324X

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Detective Inspector Tim Yates is a very modern policeman, politically correct from his careful understanding of procedure and law to his handling of his staff, his drinking habits and his penchant for keeping fit on mountain bikes and wearing garish lycra while off duty a real drawback in the endlessly flat south Lincolnshire fenlands. He is as careful and controlled in his approach to his job of investigating murder, using an inner mental whiteboard of deduction to build up his suspicions and develop his case.

When a work party discovers the decomposed body of a woman beside a road, Yates and his team uncover a link to the thirty-year-old case of a woman convicted of killing her mother-in-law. The squad must break down a wall of silence and deception and unravel the strangest of family relationships as they try to establish how she died, what is the link between the deaths and the very real possibility that the woman, now discharged from prison and in a home, was innocent and that the real killer, or killers, are still free.

Most people who have visited the fens recall them for three reasons the almost sinister bleakness of the winter landscape, the closeness of its people unwilling to open up to outsiders and the traditional slur of inbreeding. Christina James exploits these to the full and the book has a menacing undercurrent of constant disquiet.

Her handling of shifts in both point of view and time keep the reader caught in a thicket of uncertainty and off-balance as she develops her plot. Her near-Victorian style of writing merely serves to heighten the sinister effect. Whether it is her portrayal of a devious and grasping homosexual out to exploit the past for his own gain, the careful use of dialogue, or the rich use of images and internal landscapes, all serve to mark her as a writer to watch.

As a study of the effects of a lifetime of deception, manipulation and concealment with the near inevitable descent into mental instability among the very closed family at the heart of Yates's investigation, this is a tour de force. Add the clever use of a none too obvious 'red herring' and, from a police point of view a less than satisfactory outcome no convictions and this is a book well worth re-reading, purely because the denseness and complexity of its plot makes it difficult to take in first time around.

One last credit: most crime novels focus on the lead detective but James gives full credit to those who 'also stand and wait'. Her understanding of the police structure and support teams and their roles in a complex investigation feature prominently and give a genuine authenticity to the story. This is the first of the DI Yates stories and there will be plenty of demand for more.

John Cleal is a former soldier and journalist with an interest in medieval history. He divides his time between France and England.

Reviewed by John Cleal, March 2013

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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