Shadows of Justice by Simon Hall
Because my reading is now spread over quite a wide range of the genres, I not infrequently come into a series after a significant number of books have already been published. I bear this with fortitude. It comes with the territory of becoming a more-or-less full-time reviewer instead of being able to pick and choose what I want to read when I want to read it. So here we go with my first look at Dan Groves, better known as the TV Detective, in Shadows of Justice by Simon Hall (Thames River Press, 2013).
For reasons unknown to me, our reporter as hero seems very pally with Detective Inspector Adam Breen. While it’s always useful for an investigating officer to have the help of a newshound when appropriate, e.g. to manage the news on a kidnapping, it seems unlikely they would have a practical working relationship as investigators. With the real-world police under pressure for leaking secrets to the news media for cash, the fictional equivalent would be more cautious about sharing information with a television journalist. Although this relationship is entirely open and not corrupt, the officer would need to be seen to be clean and not give rise to suspicion of misconduct in public office. Indeed, this July has seen the publication of new guidelines with all British police officers now required to register the names of all “friends” who work in the media. Ironically, the same obligation applies to “friends” who have been convicted of criminal offences. Failure to disclose will be considered gross misconduct and will lead to dismissal. That said the hook of this book is the mismatched team and we’re not supposed to question whether it’s even remotely credible. Such are the whims of authors and far be it for me to be overly critical of pairing characters so they can investigate and solve fictional crimes.
Structurally, the narrative of this book is very interesting because about halfway through it pivots and takes a different route to the end. Thematically, this is not original. I’ve seen many examples of it before, but it more usually sets up in a short preface or evidence of it is collected during the investigation and reveals the motive for the murder(s). Allowing for my failing memory, I can’t remember such a dramatic moment creating the motive for the deaths in the second half. Indeed, for a while I was nursing the belief that the key people had staged their own deaths. Given the motive for the initial kidnapping was revenge both personal (the reason for signing the ransom note PP is a delight) and political, it appealed to my sense of justice that the perpetrators should seek to disappear. That would add more pain and suffering to those left behind and perfect the criminals’ revenge. Once I had disabused myself of that “absurd” notion, I more or less got the final twist but not the precise mechanism of how it was all engineered. It’s a very elegant plot and definitely scores high on my scale of whodunnitry.
Unfortunately, that’s an end of the praise. Reactions to writing style are always highly subjective so you can take what follows with a pinch of salt. The fact I dislike the prose as presented to me should not deter you from reading an ingenious police procedural with an amateur detective assisting. But by my standards this book is at least fifty pages too long. No opportunity is missed to pad out events to almost unreadable lengths. For example, the first chapter describing the arrival of the jury to deliver its verdict is almost completely redundant. It makes the start unnecessarily melodramatic and adds more than a thousand words where a simple sentence or two would have sufficed. When it comes to the general text, expressions must be “unreadable”, battles “wearying”, the state must be “all-knowing”, and the bureaucracy “faceless”. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not against the use of flowery adjectives and illuminating descriptions, but I find this text somewhat overwrought and not a little clichéd. Yet as I indicated at the outset, this is not a first novel. Publishers are in the game to make money so Simon Hall must be popular. Word-of-mouth and general reviews must be positive. I’m therefore forced to conclude that, yet again, my taste is out of step with the general readership for this type of fiction.
A copy of this book was sent to me for review.