Quintin Jardine

Headline £10.99hbk

Reviewed by Mick Herron

Joining a novel sequence twelve or so books in is like tuning in to a well-established soap opera, where the characters already know who they are and what they're doing. In the case of Jardine's DCC Bob Skinner series, who and what they mostly are is police officers, and the skein of relationships indicates that they've all been around a while. Not that it's difficult to pick up the threads: internal evidence, for a start, suggests that the previous title in the sequence ended with Skinner keeling over at a funeral; for the first forty or so pages, Jardine teases us with the notion that he died, but we already know he's kidding because it says so on the cover.


After that, a number of plots develop swiftly, two of them depending on Skinner's personal life: the appearance of a body which turns out to be his hitherto secret brother, and a murder in America for which his wife is arrested. Being a professional investigator is obviously a full-time business (Poirot couldn't go on holiday without tripping over a corpse), but having two family connections come cropper in the same couple of days is a bit of a blow (though I can't help suspecting that prior to this episode, Skinner himself would have been surprised to find he had a brother).
Everything happens quickly enough to keep the pages turning; perhaps a little too quickly at times-the various plots are wound up a mite perfunctorily, as is the left-wing firebrand councillor who's been a thorn in the force's side, and turns out to have a vicious career-criminal past and blackmailable sexual tendencies. (I know Labour is the new Tory, but this seemed a little over the top.) Enough shuffling has meanwhile taken place in various private lives to whet fans' appetites for the next instalment, which will doubtless be forthcoming. The publishers call this Jardine's breakthrough novel, which is a little hopeful: Black and Blue it ain't. But it's a swift read with plenty to entertain: I'm sure he has loads of fans, and I'm sure he'll have loads more after this one.