When DI Jack Ravenshaw saves a young woman from jumping off the Clifton Suspension Bridge, he soon finds himself seconded to London to investigate the murder of theatrical agent Charlie Maitland. Jack would seem to be the ideal candidate, as he comes from the famous acting family, the Ravenshaws, but he’s not welcomed by the local force. He’s not particularly keen to be there either, as he’s estranged from his family – mostly due to his choice of non-acting career. And the voices that he keeps hearing aren’t particularly helping either…
One night, alone in his bedroom, Charlie Maitland appears to have drunk a large quantity of antimony, a chemical that slowly and painfully burned through his stomach. His Polish maid, the girl who almost jumped from the bridge, seems to have seen something – but soon she too is dead, apparently scared to death. With almost everyone working against him, can DI Ravenshaw find a murderer who can apparently kill without touch?
M G Scarsbrook has, to date, written two historical novels and some reference works, so this is his first foray into the present day whodunit genre, and he asked very nicely if I’d do a fair and honest review of this book. Brace yourself…
Just kidding – it’s really, really good.
One thing – if you’re expecting a realistic look at life as a Detective Inspector in the London Metropolitan police force, you probably want to look elsewhere. It’s always hard to make the detective an interesting character in a novel when he has to behave himself as a policeman, so Scarsbrook makes the choice to give all of the police characters motives that would probably get them all kicked out for one reason or another. It’s hardly a new approach – how many of Stuart MacBride‘s Aberdeen police force should still be in a job – but it works very well here.
The police machinations are merely part of a multi-layered mystery. It’s such a pleasure to read a mystery with a small cast list (especially after a few recent reads) where all of the characters matter – everyone is up to something and there are no extraneous characters. Of course, with a smaller cast, guessing the murderer should be easy, but Scarsbrook puts together a clever plot, the complete solution of which is complicated enough to fool most readers and simple enough to make you kick yourself.
Add to this a fascinating lead character – the concept sounds rather quirky, but it works. A policeman who gets important leads from absinthe-induced nightmares in the theatre where he lives sounds ridiculous but as I said, it works. It works really well indeed.
I’m happy to say, this is the first in a series, and I’ll definitely be back for more. This is, rather obviously, Highly Recommended.