Deadlock, by Quintin Jardine
In common with the other one of Jardine’s books which I have reviewed, The Roots of Evil, which immediately precedes this one in the timeline, there is a plethora of characters, and their relationships & individual characteristics might become more comfortably familiar after reading a couple more [and there are plenty to go at!], but I still struggle, occasionally, to always remember who does what [if job designations aren’t given], and how they are related; but I feel I am, at least, starting to get to know them. As this is set in Scotland, and the structure of policing there is somewhat different from that of England, there is a division of labour between the two primary police bases in Glasgow and Edinburgh, although it is not unknown for officers from both cities to work on the same cases, as happens here, eventually. I use this qualification advisedly, because I was beginning to wonder, by the time I had nearly reached the half-way point in the book, if I was going to read about anything other than the complex personal & professional relationships between some of the characters, and the machinations arising therefrom.
The crime aspect of the narrative starts slowly, and is not actually recognised as such immediately: Bob Skinner, now happily retired from his Chief Constable position with Police Scotland, is an executive with an international media organisation, although he still maintains contact with officers he has latterly been a mentor for, and is prepared to offer advice on cases, if requested; he is also still a Special Constable. The pandemic is now a regular feature of recently-written stories, and as part of his personal public service remit, he joins a group set up by a friend, author Matthew Reid, for the purpose of helping local elderly people who might be struggling in one way or another as a result of the lockdown [which doesn’t seem to unduly restrict Skinner’s freedom of movement, however]. Unfortunately, two of these ‘clients’ die in quick succession and, whilst the circumstances of their deaths don’t give rise to any cause for concern from all the usual authorities, Bob Skinner’s instincts begin to worry him; the husband of one of the deceased also died not so long ago but, again, in ostensibly unsuspicious circumstances, and this fact is brought to the attention of a mid-rank police officer, by a daughter who persists in thinking something was missed in the original verdict of natural causes. The only common link between these cases that can be found, initially, is the presence of a young lad on a bicycle, but no-one knows who he is, or what his involvement might be.
The story, whose only crime-related interest hitherto has been this low-level investigation, is then given a significant injection of excitement when a particularly gruesome murder is discovered in Glasgow, and there are implications of security service involvement. Bob Skinner still has connections with MI5 which, as far as the public is aware anyway, does not operate in Scotland, so there is an obvious incentive for this status quo to be maintained. Unfortunately, it soon becomes apparent that the recently retired Chief Constable, Andrew Martin, could be the perpetrator but, given his previous status, and his current political ambition—reckoned to be a shoo-in—this is an investigation that will have to be handled extremely sensitively; his fractious relationship with Bob Skinner doesn’t help, of course: Martin had a liaison with Skinner’s daughter, Alex, while he was still married to another police officer, which doesn’t endear Martin to Skinner in any way. Until very near the end of the narrative, it appears that the deaths of the elderly people, if they were, in fact, murders, might have been motiveless crimes, but Skinner discovers that someone of his acquaintance has been deviously clever: identifying the person is one thing, but can the person be found, given that the person has made very strenuous and well planned efforts to disappear?
I am very happy for a narrative to unfold slowly, providing a reason for a crime story is presented before too long; otherwise, it is a story about a potentially confusing network of personal relationships which, on its own, is not really my cup of tea. This story really delivers, however, using the pandemic as a plausible background to the story, and I don’t think it is an exaggeration to say that the plotting, and the planning of the killer are worthy of the Mistress of Murder, Agatha Christie: there is even a major clue in the narrative, but of course, hindsight is very useful in recognising this, and I will certainly not be revealing it! A new Bob Skinner story, The Bad Fire, is already available, so I will eagerly await its arrival in my local library! The paperback I read was published in 2022  by HEADLINE PUBLISHING GROUP, London, ISBN 978-1-4722-8285-9.