Written by AJ Cross — Some debut novels can be hampered by the need to provide a back-story for all of the main characters. Not so Gone In Seconds. I’m not really sure how she did it, but somehow AJ Cross manages to make you feel you’ve known Dr Kate Hanson and her cohorts for years.
Kate is a forensic psychologist who divides her working life between lecturing at the local university and helping Birmingham Police at their Unsolved Crimes Unit. At home she has 12-year-old daughter Maisie, Mugger the cat, and the long-suffering Phyllis who is cleaner-cum-housekeeper-cum-childminder.
Balancing police work and home life is a tough ask – just ask Sarah Lund. Kate knows this too and sometimes her juggling skills leave a lot to be desired, but when the skeletal remains of a young woman are found in woodland near a bypass, she throws herself into the investigation. The body is that of teenager Molly James, who went missing five years ago, and further digging uncovers the remains of at least one more female. Kate suspects they are looking for a repeater – a killer who adapts his methods as his confidence grows, and who will not stop until he is captured. Can she and her team make any sense of the clues he left behind – and stop him before he strikes again?
I loved the mix of personalities in the Unsolved Crimes Unit. Kate, is a cool-headed academic type whose theory-based analysis infuriates the hell out of dyed-in-the-wool copper Detective Sergeant Bernie Watts, who prefers to trust his (often mistaken) gut instincts. Add the cool US charm of Lieutenant Joe Corrigan, a highly-trained firearms officer seconded to the force from Boston, and the fresh-faced enthusiasm of Kate’s student helper Julian Devenish, and you’ve got a recipe for some superb interplay. A nasty element is brought by the UCU boss Inspector Furman, who was a sergeant, and the senior investigating officer when Molly disappeared. He now seems strangely unwilling to assist in the reopened case and its time to light the blue touchpaper and sit back to watch the ensuing fireworks.
The whodunit element of the story is well constructed and devilishly deceptive. I had my own theories, of course, but was delighted when all of them were proved wrong. That’s a sure sign of a well thought-out plot.
Perhaps the trouble is that Gone in Seconds is that the forensic psychologist niche is already well populated – think of the Tony Hill books by Val McDermid, or the Megan Rhys series by Lindsay Jayne Ashford. Author AJ Cross is herself a member of the profession, so she knows the role inside out. Perhaps as a consequence of her expertise, there’s a little too much procedural detail in this book. However, there is an enjoyable contrast between Kate Hanson’s working life, where she handles herself with great assurance, and her home life, where she is forever at loggerheads with her young daughter. I’m particularly looking forward to seeing how Kate and daughter Maisie cope with the fast-approaching teenage years.
There’s also scope for a romance between Kate and Joe, and the ending of this book leaves the door open for forensic psychologist and killer to meet again. We’ll just have to wait and see where AJ Cross decides to take us, but I’m definitely up for the ride.
CFL Rating: 4 Stars