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by Cath Staincliffe
Minotaur Books, January 2014
400 pages
ISBN: 1250038545

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

In this fast-paced police procedural set in Manchester, England, Gill Murray and her team investigate the murder of Lisa Finn, a seventeen-year-old drug addict who has been raised primarily in care, although she does have a mother who shows up periodically in her life. Cath Staincliffe takes the reader through a well-structured investigation into Finn's murder and the lives of those around her, including her boyfriend, her social worker, the on-again-off-again mother, and other minor characters. The action is well-paced and believable, with a number of twists and peripheral but related crimes that move the plot along quickly and keep the reader guessing.

In addition to laying out the murder investigation, Staincliffe introduces us to three strong female characters: Gill Murray, who leads the investigation; Janet Scott, one of Murray's officers as well as her friend; and Rachel Bailey, the newest member of the team. Young, tough, outspoken, and ambitious, Bailey borders on being over-the-top and unlikable to both Scott, with whom she has been partnered, and the reader, but Staincliffe walks the fine line successfully and creates a character the reader wants to know. Likewise, Scott and Murray have messy, "real life" lives that the reader gets glimpses of, making them fully drawn and interesting rather than off-the-rack police officers. As they work to solve the case, these three women also navigate the challenges of both personal and professional relationships that add further complications - and interest - to the overall plot.

Staincliffe has chosen to tell her story by switching among Murray's, Scott's, and Bailey's perspectives. This works well for the most part, allowing the reader to learn more about each of the main characters as well as being in on scenes that wouldn't have been possible if the story were told from a single point of view. However, both the structure and the three main characters would have been more successful if Staincliffe had made stronger distinctions among the characters. From time to time, they come off as interchangeable and a bit less developed than they could have been. However, Staincliffe does a masterful job of weaving in back stories and hinting at more to come, indicating that these three will continue to develop in later works. With the rich lives of the three main characters, as well as the real sense of the grittiness of Manchester and its inhabitants, Staincliffe has the start of what appears to be an intriguing series.

Meredith Frazier, a writer with a background in English literature, lives in Dallas, Texas

Reviewed by Meredith Frazier, December 2013

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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