Blind Fury by Lynda La Plante
Blind Fury is a police procedural by Lynda La Plante. This is the sixth book in the Anna Travis series and it turns out to be a balancing act between detail and plot development. Any judgement you make about the credibility of a book depends on how well it recreates the atmosphere of the place and the work done by its characters. This is set in an incident room and allied support facilities occupied by a group of detectives tasked with investigating a murder. As the plot develops, it expands from a single into a serial murder investigation. So we can follow this development, the main character, Anna Travis, makes what will prove to be a number of key discoveries. As in any good procedural, we’re allowed to watch over Travis’ shoulder as the detail builds up. This is both good news and bad. In any investigation, the police have an iceberg problem. There’s a vast amount of potentially useful information, but only a small amount of it rises above the water level into view. Salience is everything. Without being able to understand which elements of information are significant, it can be a frustrating process, often leading the investigators down blind alleys as “clues” peter out. So the good news for those who enjoy this type of book is that the construction of the plot is very clever and the way in which we see each layer of the onion slowly peeling back is fascinating. The setting feels real and the behaviour of the characters matches the stereotypes we’ve come to expect in this type of book. The bad news, such as it is, comes in two rather different ways.
In the best procedural novels, our point of view is solely through the eyes of the investigating officers. Assuming the author wants to play fair with the readers, we should have the same chance of working out what’s going on as the police do. However, on a number of occasions, we’re given omniscient author information about whether a particular person is dishonest. Frankly, I think this is cheating. I don’t mind more vague hints when the detective’s gut or some other metaphor for intuition twitches and suggests the witness is lying. But for us to be told explicitly that a witness is withholding or disposing of vital evidence breaks a golden rule. Second, the volume of detail is actually a little daunting. This book weighs in at 492 pages of text and, just as the police get somewhat frustrated as their investigation periodically seems to stall, there’s a similar threat to the reader. The only thing that saves us is that the broader narrative context is actually quite interesting although the ending is telegraphed quite early on. The only issues left to be resolved after the halfway point are how Travis and Langton will prove whodunnit and exactly how the Cameron Welsh situation will be resolved.
DCS James Langton is an experienced detective and, even from his superior position, he’s still mentoring Anna Travis and encouraging her — this despite the fact he dumped her as a lover earlier in the series. Once we enter the end-game, we get a proper chance to see Langton in action again. Up to that point he’s been involved in a supervisory role, to some extent directing operations and controlling finance, but apart from demonstrating that one witness has been lying, it’s been a Travis show. Unfortunately, she’s not yet good enough to be able to run an interview to exploit the psychological weaknesses of the well-prepared accused. Perhaps in the next book, she will have refined her skills but, in this book, it’s left to Langton to show us the art of a revealing interview. He builds on the good work done by Travis, and converts the intuition and hard work of a woman struggling to be a team-player, and gets a team result. Many of the characters return from the earlier books: Mike Lewis, Paul Barolli, Joan Faukland, and so on. This gives us continuity and expectations as to how they will behave. In the end, Langton proves to be a rock of stability. For Anna Travis, this is a roller-coaster ride from slight professional disengagement to full involvement at a professional and personal level, and then a further promotion for good work in the review board at the end.
If there’s a weak element in the story, it’s the subplot involving Cameron Welsh. This is a replication of the trope made famous by Thomas Harris in which a convicted criminal offers advice on the case from behind bars. We are all aware of Hannibal Lecter who first appears in Red Dragon where he’s consulted by Will Graham. Blind Fury follows in the footsteps of the Clarice Starling consultation, with our convicted felon obsessed by Anna and determined to insert himself into her latest case. Structurally, the commentary offered by Cameron Welsh is a kind of mirror to the police investigation. He does make some shrewd observations but, as with all such dangerously unstable personalities, you have to doubt his motives. He’s also a necessary device to take Anna out of London and into the path of a handsome young man as the potential love interest. This gives her a personal high and, because she never actually stops thinking about the case, it also inspires one or two useful insights.
So there you have it. Blind Fury is a somewhat densely written police procedural novel that rises above the wealth of detail to build and maintain interest as more potential murders are identified. The narrative arc of the characters continues in this sixth in the series and Anna seems to come through the fire of this investigation and its aftermath a stronger person. It will be interesting to see where the relationship with Langton will go in the next in the series. So, whether you have tried any of Lynda La Plante’s previous novels, Blind Fury can be read as a stand-alone novel or represents another excellent contribution to the story of Anna Travis.
For a review of the next book in the series, see Blood Line.
A copy of this book was sent to me for review.