Cath Staincliffe

Allison & Busby £17.99hbk May 2003

Reviewed by Maureen Carlyle

This is the sixth book in a successfully running series featuring Sal Kilkenny, a Manchester private eye who is also a single mother. She and her seven-year-old daughter, Maddie, share a house with single father Ray and his son, Tom.

Maddie, a normally happy and outgoing child, is strangely reluctant to go to school, and the difficulty in getting her there results in Sal being late for an appointment with a new client, Lucy Barker. She is an elegantly-dressed young woman who works as a receptionist at a hotel in Salford. She has been receiving anonymous letters threatening death.

There seems to be very little to go on, as Lucy has few friends. Her parents emigrated to Australia some years ago. Sal notices she is wearing an engagement ring. Lucy explains that her fiancé, Benjamin, died tragically in a car accident from which she narrowly escaped with her life.

Sal decides to interview Lucy’s colleages at the hotel. The manager, Ian Hoyle, is particularly unco-operative. When Sal reports back to Lucy, she claims that Hoyle, a married man, has been pursuing her. Sal is not entirely satisfied with this explanation and in a second interview he gives his version of the story, in which Lucy is the pursuer and he the pursued. The death threats continue, unpleasant packages arrive and Lucy’s flat is trashed.

There are three strands to the story which continue throughout the book: the Lucy Barlow investigation, Maddie’s problems at school, and another of Sal’s cases - a middle-aged couple are buying a house in Didsbury, an expensive area, and they want the road checked out to see if it is safe to live in. As the weather turns bitterly cold, Sal stations herself in the neighbourhood to do some night-time observations. She discovers that one of the neighbouring houses is derelict and is occupied by a down-and-out old couple, then has to rescue a blonde woman who has been badly beaten up and refuses to go to the police. She later meets the woman again at a party and discovers she is one half of a lesbian relationship. It is no surprise to find out that her partner is beating her up.

The three strands are entirely unrelated other than as moral dilemmas for Sal.

As I have not read the previous books I don’t know whether Sal is normally as bad at her job as she is in this one, but an intelligent five-year-old would probably be quicker off the mark in solving the Lucy Barker mystery. It comes to a violent climax, which would be much more exciting if it had been less obvious. This is a pity, as it is well-written and the characters believable.