Blunt Force, by Lynda la Plante
I hope my regular readers will bear with me, if my book reviews are not so frequent or regular for the next few weeks: I am currently in the midst of a significant refactor of the Wilfred Books website; long overdue, I regret to say, because of the inexorable rise in postage costs by Royal Mail, which has meant that I have been losing money on every physical book sale for a while [downloads aren’t affected: prices remain unchanged] and, with Christmas approaching again, as it does with monotonous regularity, I thought I should be prepared for the expected rush of book sales before the big day. Sorry: just my little joke! Suffice to say that I am struggling to keep up with the demands of book reviewing as well as the essential website maintenance, but I am confident that normal service will be resumed as soon as possible: watch this space! Anyway: on to the book review.
This is the sixth of the early career Jane Tennison novels, and now she finds herself, still a detective sergeant, kicking her heels in a quiet police station in Gerald Road, Knightsbridge, a part of London which is described as “sleepy”, after being unceremoniously dumped from the Flying Squad: at the end of the previous book, she was very nearly shot, but one of her colleagues was, when an operation went badly wrong. She had been aware, right from the start of her tenure in The Sweeney, that she was the proverbial square peg in a round hole, given the male-dominated, chauvinistic nature of the officers, but that didn’t deter her from trying to make her mark; unfortunately, the mark she made was a black one. Now she is relegated to paperwork & petty crime, if she’s lucky; she is also working with an old colleague, DS Spencer Gibbs, who is also in some disgrace, after having been demoted. It seems a bit odd that Jane appears to accept being regarded as subordinate to Gibbs, even though they are equivalent in rank: probably right for the timeframe, though, and she knows that being assertive isn’t always a good idea, unless she is in a very strong position.
Of course, this would make for a totally uninteresting, non-story, so there is a murder in her area, which galvanises the station into very welcome action. A theatrical agent, Charlie Foxley, is brutally murdered, in his apartment; he is not only bludgeoned to death with a cricket bat, but also his throat was cut in the bathroom, and he was disembowelled in the bedroom; so if this was the action of one person, there must have been a very serious motive to initiate this level of brutality. In the course of the story, we are vicariously thrown into the sometimes seedy world of acting, and latterly modelling, as Foxley had recently opened a thus-far loss-making agency called KatWalk, a ‘wacky’ way of spelling the British term catwalk – the elongated platform on which models display ‘fashion’ outfits. There are several possible perpetrators who have to be eliminated from the inquiries, including Foxley’s ex-wife Justine, who has been a successful actor, but is now living in her own house with their daughter, and suffering intermittently from mental illness. Jane is also labouring under the supervision of less than accommodating superior officers, and despite her best efforts, she still occasionally slips up, which doesn’t go unnoticed.
This is quite a long book, at 411 pages, and the pace is fairly slow; this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, if you enjoy working through all of the stages of police procedurals, and the main character/s is/are interesting and/or attractive. However, there are a couple of narrative elements which seem somewhat surplus to requirements, although one of them serves the purpose of wrapping up a previous plot element, and the other one could be introducing a plot element for a future story, either being planned or already being written. The former is apprehending her corrupt erstwhile superior officer in The Sweeney, as part of the real-life Operation Countryman—this occupies only a small part of the story, admittedly, and it comes very near the end of the book. The latter is her introduction to firearms training, which seems like a good idea, given her inept behaviour around guns previously, but it doesn’t play an active rôle in this story. The other aspect of the narrative, aside from the murder investigation, which produces an interesting twist, is her ongoing lack of a love-life; although to be fair, that is hardly surprising, given the demands of the job. One aspect of the writing I found slightly implausible was the lack of contractions used in conversation, especially among police colleagues: it makes the conversation seem somewhat stilted. All in all, this is probably one for the Tennison/Prime Suspect devotees: otherwise, readers might find it unexciting. The hardback version I read was published in 2020 by Zaffre, London, ISBN 978-1-78576-985-6.