14 months ago I read and enthusiastically reviewed Angela Marsons’ Lost Girls. Her plot was so gripping, her story so well told, that I promptly got hold of two earlier novels and then the fourth in the series, Play Dead.
All had breathtaking plots, a talent for characterisation worthy of Simenon, together with a sense of place and of time that is often disturbing. She sets her novels in the Black Country of the English Midlands, which seems as gritty an environment as Ian Rankin’s Edinburgh. The protagonist is D.I. Kim Stone who is based with her team of Bryant, Dawson and Stacey (their invaluable computer nerd) at Halesowen near Birmingham. Stacey’s need to prove her investigative skills on the street will lead her into very dangerous waters. That she ever has the chance to do so comes from an ingenious piece of plotting.
Skeletal remains are unexpectedly found on a farm during a university forensic exercise. The site is on a vaguely defined border between two police jurisdictions, West Midlands and West Mercia. D.I. Kim Stone fiercely wants the case but finds she has been sacrificed on the altar of interforce co-operation. She will work the case but it will be jointly with the head of the West Mercia team. What is worse she will be constantly in his company. D.I. Travis was once a colleague, but they have been bitterly at odds for the past four years. Kim’s own team will have to carry on without her, led by her trusted subordinate Bryant, temporarily promoted to Detective Inspector.
All this means the author can explore some interesting questions: can Kim get a result when confronting serial killings without her well-honed team? Can that team solve some increasingly ugly crimes without her leadership or even advice? Results are desperately needed because it soon appears that both sets of detectives are confronting a series of race hate abductions and murders that will continue indefinitely unless the leading perpetrators are hunted down.
The author risks some confusion as she alternately jumps the reader from team to team, showing several different viewpoints in succession. In fact it works well, not least because it allows her to bring her usually supporting characters, Bryant, Dawson and Stacey, centre-stage and they prove to be very interesting.
The author admits her research into hate crimes took her “to a place of such disgust and despair” she wondered if she should continue her research. It is not very comforting for the reader to hear the theme has turned out to be as “timely and current as it is right now due to the political landscape developing around us”. The reference, in part at least, is to England post-Brexit. Is the plot of this novel greatly exaggerated? I fear it is not.
Author: Angela Marsons