CUT DEAD

Written by Mark Sennen

Review written by LJ Hurst

Initially, L. J. Hurst worked in the backrooms of the media industry. He now divides his time between work for an international scientific publisher and a rather more British independent bookseller. In years past he was a regular attendee at the Shots on the Page Festivals from whence Shots Mag sprung


CUT DEAD
Avon
RRP: £6.99
Released: 27th February 2014
Pbk

With a serial killer you know what you are going to get. At least in Mark Sennen's third DI Charlotte Savage you cannot say that the bodies pile up: that is because they are found in a pit. And once your science officers have removed the corpses to the pathologist's laboratory you do not expect to find more. “That corpse you planted last year – has it begun to sprout?” is not a question usually answered positively. Charlotte Savage's life, though, is not normal, much as she would like it be.

Running through the series is the torment in her life: the loss of her daughter in a hit and run accident which the Devon and Cornwall force have been unable to solve, and which Savage feels obliged to continue investigating using less official methods. She has no solution when Cut Dead finally comes to a dead stop, but Mark Sennen has written recently that he has a new three book contract so there is a good chance her search will continue to arc.

In the meantime what do you get? A serial killer who kidnaps and murders his victims, one a year on midsummer's day, leaving a birthday cake in their place; who seems to have stopped for several years but has now begun again; a force that is overworked and in surroundings that stretch from the city of Plymouth into the white spoil tips of the Cornish interior via remote farms where other crimes are under surveillance in the bleak but wet midwinter, and petty politics, dry-witted pathologists, and half-crazed criminal profilers, with different officers having their own favourites to help stir the mix. Only mentioned in passing here, I imagine that struggles between the Chief Constable and the new Police and Crime Commissioner will in future ensure that Savage is put through the blender.

Underneath everything this is a detective story with clues, but Mark Sennen's remote gaze, his listing of the many officers in the investigation, the inability of most of them to work together, and Charlotte Savage's unintellectual nature mean that confusion allows crime to re-occur. Savage is a protagonist rather than a detective heroine, but many police forces may suffer that handicap. Similarly, in another echo of reality, Cut Dead has a terrific sub-plot as the police – almost unintentionally through their reliance on their instincts instead of the facts – try to stitch up an early suspect while we readers know something must be wrong and this waste of police time is allowing the criminal to continue to live free.

The central clue also occurs in Christopher Priest's The Prestige. Unfortunately, according to the BBC World Service, a breakthrough announced in January 2014 means that the scientific test which allows a suspect to be written off has become 100% efficient. Priest's novel was intentionally historical,grab Cut Dead before its plot becomes obsolete.

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