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Police Procedural

Review - Welcome Back Jack by Liam Sweeny

When Jack was six years old, his parents were brutally slain by a serial killer. The police later found drifter Clyde Colsen driving a stolen car, his clothes soaked in blood. He was tried, convicted and executed. Jack grew up knowing the police got their man.

Now a decorated homicide detective in New Rhodes, Jack arrives at the third crime scene of the “South End Killer” murders and finds his name. He will soon find out something else: thirty years ago, they got the wrong guy. And now the right guy’s come back to pay Jack and New Rhodes his bloody respects.

As Jack struggles to stay on the case, his cat-and-mouse game with the killer makes him wonder if he’s the cat or the mouse. His family and everyone in his life is fair game. As the killer escalates and threatens the entire city, Jack has a question he must answer in his desperation: can he stop the monster without becoming one?

Well, this is a nugget of a novel. Even at the outset Welcome Back Jack feels a little more than a standard crime thriller. There’s a host of strong characters, each is flawed and with enough history to make them interesting. Jack in particular, with his parents murdered, case closed. But is it?

There’s quite a powerful psychological element to the writing too. Sweeny (and therefore the killer) throws clues out like breadcrumbs. Leading Jack and the reader along an increasingly taut narrative.

The deaths are sufficiently gruesome to make the reader realise we’re dealing with a sick person (which is, I suppose, the definition of a serial killer) but without ever drifting into the realms of gruesome or meaningless gore.

The dialogue has an excellent depth to it. There’s plenty of conflict between the characters and beyond Jack (for example his father in law, also a cop, begins to question whether they caught the right man, the actual killer of Jack’s parents).

In addition the procedural element is believable and clearly well researched, the cops really feel like cops who know what they’re doing.

Sweeny’s admirers include heavyweights in the genre such as Ken Bruen, Les Edgerton and Joe Clifford. On the strength of this novel, it’s easy to see why.

Originally reviewed for Books & Pals Blog.

Rating: Four Stars

Review - Preserve The Dead by Brian McGilloway

Detective Sergeant Lucy Black of the Derry police force leads a full and complex life. Her father is suffering the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease and has been badly beaten by another inmate at the secure unit he’s currently in. But before she can complain about his treatment a body is discovered floating in the river that passes beneath the unit. Black drags the corpse ashore. It’s an old man, fully dressed and appearing as if he’s been at a funeral.

Investigation shows the old man was dead before he went into the river. Actually he was ready to be buried and had been embalmed. So how did he end up in the river and why?

With the corpse taken away and questions swirling in her mind, Lucy heads home to her father’s house, only to get sucked into a domestic abuse case. One of her neighbours asks for help. His sister’s wife, Fiona, has been badly beaten. Lucy agrees, but she doesn’t declare herself to be police in case it scares Fiona off and makes her return to her husband. Lucy awakes the next day to find she’s landed another case. A homeless man has been found in the compacter of a rubbish truck. He’d been emptied into the truck from a bin he’d been sleeping in. Only it wasn’t the compacter that killed him. The tramp had been beaten up first.

Lucy returns to the case of the floating man. She learns someone was cremated in his place, but all they have left are the ashes and some metal pins and plates. One of the plates is from the skull and it has a large cut in it. Seemingly the person was killed by a blow to the head. With multiple mysteries on her hands Lucy carries on digging and it appears the case of the homeless man and the unidentified cremation are connected. It transpires homeless men have been going missing all over Derry, drawn towards the offer of work by a mystery man in a van. But who was cremated and why was he killed? And how is he linked to Fiona’s husband, the wife beater? What Lucy eventually finds shocks her to the core.

Preserve The Dead is the second novel featuring DS Lucy Black. From the first page she is beset with a series of issues to resolve personally and professionally. Her father has Alzheimer’s, but there’s also the a difficult relationship with her mother, who left Lucy and her father when she was eight and happens to now be the Acting Chief Constable so is ultimately Lucy’s boss. The characterisation is strong. For example, it’s particularly easy to associate with Lucy and her troubles.

The book operates well enough as a stand-alone novel with minimal reference or impact from previous story lines. The only significant element is the tension with her partner Robbie, who was previously injured in a car bomb meant for Lucy. It’s a wise aspect to add, though, as it adds another dimension to her trouble and complex life.

One slight disappointment with the book is the editing. Sometimes the diction is repetitive and there are some mangled sentences. This aside, Preserve The Dead is a very good read and will appeal to anyone who enjoys police procedurals or strong female leads. McGilloway is a rising star in the crime world, and deservedly so.

Originally reviewed for Crime Fiction Lover.

Rating: Four Stars

Review - Born In A Burial Gown by Mike Craven

Born In A Burial Gown was longlisted for the CWA Debut Dagger Award and it’s easy to see why. This is a consummate police procedural and for several very good reasons. First is the significant depth of detail into investigative processes rarely seen elsewhere. If you’re into the whys and wherefores, Burial Gown has it, although Craven manages not to bog the reader down in detail.

Second is the characterization, Fluke in particular is great. Suitably damaged, suitably driven he pushes the already fast-paced story along in his own way.

Third is the setting. Cumbria (aka The Lake District) is a beautiful (albeit wet) area in the North West of England more known for its tourist attractions than criminal fraternity. Craven offsets the two beautifully.

Finally there’s the plot itself. The woman’s murder and the mystery that ensues is compelling and Craven reveals just enough to keep pulling the reader through to the very satisfying end.

Simply superb.

Rating: 5 stars

Originally reviewed for Books & Pals blog.