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Shroud of Evil by Pauline Rowson

June 26, 2014 2 comments

shroud-of-evil-9780727884114

Shroud of Evil by Pauline Rowson (Severn House, 2014) sees the eleventh outing for Detective Inspector Andy Horton as he makes a guest appearance in the courts on the Isle of Wight and reviews the state of his ignorance as to what happened to his mother thirty years ago. A newspaper article read while waiting for the case to be called suggests he should try contacting Lord Eames again. Although the man has denied knowledge of his mother’s disappearance, Horton does not believe him. He therefore decides to make an unannounced visit at his estate on the coast. He’s been quietly investigating an old photograph which shows a group of six young men. Three are dead. Apart from Lord Eames, he’s not been able to track down the other two even though he has names for them: Anthony Dormand and Rory Mortimer. When he walks along the beach outside the estate, he meets an interesting man. With no-one apparently at home, he returns to base in Portsmouth, where he’s given a missing persons case. It seems a private investigator has gone AWOL. That his body later turns up on the beach outside Lord Eames’ estate on the Isle of Wight is not the kind of coincidence our hero likes. Particularly when the fact of his visit to the fringe of the estate has been recorded by surveillance cameras but not reported to the police. It seems everyone has complicated motives in play.

Which leads to a more general structural point about how best to plot a long-running series. Obviously, the first books can be introductory as to characterisation and be more-or-less standalone as police procedural cases to investigate. But there comes a point when the broader narrative arcs of who these people are and how they relate to each other comes to the fore. This will tend to be when the author has begun to make decisions about how some of the plot lines are going to be resolved. There’s just one problem. Unless the main series character is going to quit his or her job and devote all available resources to solving the key personal mystery, we’re left with an uneasy balance between the cases that come along for investigation and the steps necessary to move the metanarrative along.

Pauline Rowson

Pauline Rowson

So here we have Horton beginning to make progress in the investigation of his mother’s disappearance but, for now, Rowson wants to keep him in the Portsmouth CID. This is a convenient vehicle for providing him with appropriate resources and some degree of cover for his activities. But this also requires a series of coincidences to enable him to meet the people he needs to meet to acquire the next pieces of the puzzle. I’m not raising this issue as a complaint. In fact, this book is a very fine example of a series character making significant discoveries. The emerging backstory and explanations feel credible. For these purposes, there’s also a clever justification for there being a Portsmouth connection both when his mother disappeared and now. So I’m still impressed by this series and it’s left in a very interesting position at the end of this episode.

As to the actual murder to be investigated, this has everything going for it. The murder method is unusual. Where death occurred is uncertain. The disposition of the body in an old sail as a shroud is intriguing. And there’s a serious problem in understanding the character of the victim and precisely what work he was doing. Although there seems be a reasonably clear private investigation in progress to determine whether a husband is cheating on his wife, it’s going to be a stretch to tie the potentially errant husband to the killing. Despite the links to him, he looks to have an alibi for the time the killing is likely to have taken place. This leads to the general conclusion Shroud of Evil is an excellent continuation of the series but, to get the best out of it, you must have read some of the previous books. Knowing who everyone is helps give the book added value. So there you have it. We continue to edge slowly towards a thriller or possibly MI5, more political scenario giving the broader narrative considerably more heft.

For a review of another book by Pauline Rowson, see Death Surge.

A copy of this book was sent to me for review.

Death Surge by Pauline Rowson

November 23, 2013 Leave a comment

Death Surge website 2

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.

Pauline Rowson

Pauline Rowson

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.

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