I became a fan of Steven Dunne when a friend passed me a copy of the self-published The Reaper some years back. The version I read, which may still be the version published by Headline, had the fault common to many new writers. It was massively overwritten and thus rather too long. Those faults had been more than overcome by the time his other titles appeared. But what was also very apparent in that initial offering was the author’s ability to conjure up an intricate and absorbing storyline, and with it a character as complex and appealing as DI Damien Brook.
Brook is a flawed detective whose earlier psychiatric breakdown led him to be transferred from the smoke to Derby and whose subsequent cases have left him ever near to further breakdowns. But he has gathered around him a supportive team who understand his issues and defend him against the more traditional local tecs who are more than happy to see him sectioned off with another breakdown. His team also recognise that it is Brook’s own battles against the mental scars left by his earlier run ins with The Reaper which enables him to get inside the criminal mind and solve murders which would elude most other police investigators.
A Killing Moon starts with the disappearance of a young Irish student at Derby University. At first, however, nobody realises she has disappeared. It is the Christmas break, the girl has merely left the friend she was drinking with and gone home. The assumption is that the next morning she has taken the train and boat back to Ireland. Suspicions only arise when she fails to return to Derby in the New Year. The investigation of her disappearance takes the usual form. Interviews with the people who saw her on the night she disappeared, those she was drinking with and the staff at the pub (the wonderful Flowerpot, in case anyone is considering a drinking session in Derby). Early suspicions focus on one barman who has previous form for GBH, but is found to have been serving drinks until well after the girl left the pub, and the girl’s ex, a particularly nasty piece of work who is a law student, and son of a local councillor and member of the Police Committee. The former boyfriend arouses further suspicion when he is found to have gone out with an Italian student who also disappeared without trace.
The investigation changes tack when the team find a number of other young overseas students have gone missing in recent years. Once again their disappearance was not noted until some time later, the assumption being they had returned home. When they were not discovered at home, the assumption was that they had just gone off somewhere, as young people are apt to do. So none of the disappearances had become anything more than a missing person enquiry. The plot deepens when a friend reveals that the latest girl to go missing had undergone a recent abortion at one of the specialist clinics in Derby. The inquiry shifts to the clinic which has been the target of hostile picketing by militant pro-life groups. They become the next focus for suspicion when the clinic’s medical records reveal that other missing girls had visited the clinic prior to their disappearance.
But this is not just another case of anti-abortionists persecuting the staff and patients of termination clinics. A Killing Moon has many other sub-plots and twists before the fate of the missing girls is revealed. Once againSteven Dunne has dished up a tasty mystery served by a great cast of characters, though the dramatic climax may put you off pork for a bit. Part of his appeal to me is, of course, the grounding of the Damien Brook series in Derby, a locality he portrays very vividly, warts and all. But don’t read too much into that. I am sure the author is finding a much wider readership with every book. A Killing Moon certainly deserves to bring Steven Dunne much greater national attention.