A Dark and Twisted Tide by Sharon Bolton
A Dark and Twisted Tide by Sharon Bolton (Minotaur Books, 2014) is the fourth in the series featuring Lacey Flint and, from my point of view, presents the usual problem of having to tune into a new set of characters with already established relationships. Although it’s always necessary to start somewhere, this may be a series that it’s genuinely better to start at the beginning. Put another way, reading is very much a matter of mood and, for a while, I was seriously considering giving up. Let’s take a quick look at the set-up. For reasons not made clear, our detective has voluntarily reverted to the uniform branch of the River Police and, when not swimming in the Thames for fun, she’s cruising up and down the river, always alert for folk doing things they didn’t oughta. To complete this redirection in her life, she’s also running a fake identity. This sometimes gets her caught out in mistakes about where and when she was born, learned to swim, and so on. Don’t ask. I have no idea why she’s in hiding in plain sight on her boat moored on the river, nor why she makes a regular 450 mile roundtrip to a prison to visit a woman she arrested (in the last book?). She has a lover called Mark Joesbury, but he’s an undercover officer currently infiltrating a criminal or fringe terrorist organisation and, for obvious reasons, is uncontactable. This leaves us with a senior police officer and her lover deciding to go down the IVF route to have a child together, the usual colleagues (some more wise than others), the crusty pathologist, and the caring neighbours who look out for her and her boat.
Anyway, our heroine is out swimming in the Thames and finds a body. This is not in itself unusual. There are lots of the things floating around waiting to be found. Except this particular body may just have been left for her to find. Ah ha! So someone is watching her, knows where she swims, knows where there’s a body or two, and decides to leave one for our heroine to find. Now both in fiction and real life, people do things for a range of different motives. Body drops like this can be a kind of vigilanteeism where an altruistic member of the public decides the police need a helping hand, or the reasons can be more complex or even absurd, e.g. the killer behaves like a cat and leaves the latest body on the middle of the bed for the owner to admire. In this case, having arrived at the end of the book, I still think the motive is strongly tending to the absurd but, for once, I’m going to accept it. Even though the basis of the dump and subsequent visits to our heroine’s boat is not very rational and, indeed, may have serious consequences, there’s just enough in the characterisation to convince me this might happen. In the real world, people do absurd things without actively assessing what the outcomes might be. They fly by the seat of their pants. Sometimes the pants catch fire. That’s life.
So I arrive at the middle section of the book and begin to find events more interesting. Although some of the intercut scenes feel more like background filler to make the required word count, the broader features of the plot come into view, and then we switch up from police procedural into more positively thriller mode. Our heroine is one of these people who runs into burning buildings shouting, “Follow me!” to the other more reluctant rescuers. This inevitably propels her into some dangerous situations. However, at some point coming into the final third, the book does get exciting. From a purely technical point of view, the plot brings everything together as our heroine gets closer to identifying the killer(s) and finds herself at risk. So long as you accept the thriller premise that the major protagonist will confront the killer(s) at some point and end up facing death, this ticks all the right boxes and creates the expected thrills. Looking back, what makes the plot work is the law of unintended consequences. It all starts years ago and the effects ripple through time as cultures change, knowledge advances, and people adapt. Some adapt more successfully than others, accepting the new culture and the benefits it provides. Others feel the need to intervene, to try to improve the lot of those who may be suffering. In this book, for example, a gay couple can decide to change their relationship by producing a child or a police officer may try to maintain a more objective view of the world by having a murderer as a close friend. There are a number of interesting ideas explored in A Dark and Twisted Tide and, despite the slight predictability about some plot elements, the end result is a real thriller. Hopefully, you will have read the preceding three books before you come to this. It will presumably make the earlier stages of the story more accessible and generate tension from an earlier point in the novel.
A copy of this book was sent to me for review.