Written by Rob Gittins — The Murder Squad in the Welsh capital city of Cardiff have a big problem. A psychopathic Ukranian vice baron is creating havoc among his rivals, and taking his anger out on the prostitutes who have been unwise enough to upset him. When Tyra decides she has had enough and hands herself in to the police, they realise that her horrifying testimony will put the sadistic Yaroslav behind bars. The problem is, how can they keep her safe long enough to take the witness stand?
Enter Ros, the calm and collected Witness Protection Officer. She is widely regarded by cynical male officers as little more than a social worker, and her patience is severely tested by the exotic and wilful Tyra. As the police try to close in on their Ukranian target, a junior office is kidnapped, tortured and murdered. They struggle to come to terms with this, and then an even more horrifying death occurs. It become clear than someone inside the team is leaking information, allowing Yaroslav to stay one step ahead.
Ros is certainly an intriguing central character. She’s a closed book and lets no-one close to her, but has a secret life nocturnal life visiting a certain club. Unlike his portrayal of story’s frequent violence, Gittins is relatively coy about the exact details of what goes on in the club, mostly leaving us to use our imaginations. It is safe to say that Ros is not your usual 20-something female police officer. She is haunted by a previous case, when she failed to protect a family in her charge. As events unfold, she has growing doubts about the competence – and honesty – of those working the case.
As the plot develops two apparently different stories emerge, and by half way through, the two strands seem as unconnected as ever. Then, just as this is becoming a slightly irritating puzzle, Gittins brings about an amazing tour de force in his plotting, and everything clicks into place. I actually had to re-read the revelatory paragraph twice, just to make sure I hadn’t got it wrong. At this point, I was convinced that the book would end up as a definite contender for my book of the year. The trouble is, the plausibility begins to spiral out of control in the last 50 pages, hence the rating falling just short of top marks. Additionally, I was not entirely convinced by the rather low key police reaction to the death of one of their own. It is certainly a convention in crime fiction, and probably in real life, that the criminal community would be hit by a perfect storm of police activity until the killer was brought to justice.
Gittins is an experienced and successful scriptwriter for screen and radio, and this is certainly a startling and original debut novel. Be warned, however. This book is definitely post-watershed fare. I have not read such graphically and disturbingly described violence since the bloodstained pages of Derek Raymond’s I Was Dora Suarez. Readers who prefer allusion to anatomy may want to give Gimme Shelter a wide birth. On the other hand, anyone who is prepared for a few shocks in return for a gripping read should give this try, if only for the audacious plot twists. I read it one anxious sitting, despite the siren voices of a beautifully warm early autumn afternoon trying to persuade me to get out of the house and into the fresh air.
CFL Rating: 4 Stars