Death Surge by Pauline Rowson
Death Surge by Pauline Rowson (Severn House, 2013) is the tenth in the series featuring DI Andy Horton which means we’re slowly advancing the metanarrative of the man and his search for the truth of what happened to his mother, while dealing with another crime which proves “close to home”. For those of you not familiar with the series, we’re firmly set in the Solent forming part of the south coast of England, an area famous for sailing. Look back in history and, despite the difficult currents, the coastal strip and inlet has long been heavily fortified with naval resources ready to emerge and defend access. Today, we have a modern port for commercial shipping, a Royal Navy dockyard, and intensive use of the waters by recreational sailors with Cowes Week a major international event. To complete the picture, it’s an area of outstanding natural beauty despite the presence of major port cities and towns.
Against this background, our Detective Inspector struggles to find meaning in his life. He’s not untypical in his marriage ending in divorce. It’s a fate visited on fictional police officers who tend to place greater emphasis on their work and less on maintaining their personal relationships. In this case, the break-up is not wholly amicable, but the parents maintain some appearance of cordiality for the sake of their young daughter. This leaves our hero living on his yacht, riding his motorbike, and trying not to feel lonely. Having found himself in some professional difficulties in previous novels, his career has not advanced with the pace it might have done, but he does maintain his reputation as a problem solver. Although not everyone in the local police force likes him, there’s strong loyalty and support from the majority. After this latest book, his political base from the lower ranks is likely to keep him reasonably safe from the disapproval of his seniors — assuming he chooses to stay, of course.
The primary focus for this police procedural with thriller elements is the disappearance of a young man. He’s the nephew of Sergeant Cantelli, one of our hero’s colleagues: a fact which earns the case a higher level of commitment. But the initial report is triggered by the young man’s employer, one of these monied men with all the right connections. He’s concerned his man has not shown up as a crew member for a boat entered in the races during Cowes Week. The combination of influential decision-makers means no effort will be spared to track him down. After an initial period where no good evidence emerges, a body is found. It’s very difficult to identify who it is because it has been very thoroughly incinerated. But this escalates the level of anxiety among those who know Cantelli and the family. People remember that, as a juvenile, the missing man was involved in an arson attack with three others. Although he seemed to have been completely rehabilitated, this discovery may be a sign he has reverted to a life of crime. Complicating matters further, Interpol and the Intelligence Directorate declare an interest in the investigation. It seems there are further suspicions associated with our young man and his current disappearance does not fill the investigators with confidence.
This is a high quality puzzle for the Inspector to solve. Although one element is fairly obvious, I confess my attention was admirably distracted from the more detailed solution we get at the end. This always scores well on my clap-o-meter. As an old dog who has seem many tricks in a life misspent reading, it’s always a relief to find an author who manages to create a devious plot. My only minor complaint is the somewhat rapid switch into melodrama at the end. I appreciate readers often expect police procedurals to end with fisticuffs at dawn but. . . There’s also a practical problem which I can’t discuss because it would take me too far into spoiler territory. So there we have it. Death Surge is a taut and exciting investigation into a disappearance which turns into a murder hunt. The metanarrative also moves slowly forward with our hero picking up another clue and gaining an incentive to continue his personal crusade to resolve the mystery of his mother’s disappearance. It’s all very enjoyable as we edge slowly towards a thriller or possibly MI5 scenario.
For a review of the next book in the series, see Shroud of Evil.
A copy of this book was sent to me for review.