But For The Grace

BFTGWritten by Peter Grainger — Detective Sergeant David ‘DC’ Smith has been through the wringer, both personally and professionally. Once a senior officer in the Norfolk Constabulary, his life has taken a downward turn. First, there was tragedy at home. He watched his beloved wife wither away with cancer. Then there was turmoil at work as a succession of difficult cases brought him to his knees. Lately he has resumed his duties, but has persuaded his masters to allow him to work at a junior level.

Based in the Norfolk coastal town of King’s Lake, Smith negotiates an uneasy path as he does his job at the bidding of superiors who are usually less experienced than he is, and lack his intuition and analytical edge. In an upmarket care home, as the winter clouds darken, and snowstorms blow in from the North Sea, an elderly woman is found dead in her room. She is in her favourite armchair, but the eyes which used to gaze out of the window at the well kept autumnal gardens are closed. Forever. At her feet is an empty glass, but the visiting doctor thinks little of this and scribbles off the death certificate, with the proviso that a postmortem will be necessary, just so that all the boxes can be ticked.

Smith is taking a job in private security. He’s also puzzled why the financial advisor of his potential new boss should find him attractive. However, he’s drawn into the death of Joan Riley when test results show that she has died from an overdose of heroin. When Smith and his apprentice Dougie Waters start to investigate the staff and residents of the care home they find that what should be a safe and secure environment houses some peculiar secrets. Is Kipras Kaslauskas, the popular Lithuanian care worker concealing something? Why is the manager, Irene Miller, so defensive, and does she really have a grip of her charges and employees? And what of the so-called Famous Five – five elderly folk who were once ‘something’ in the professions, and now hold themselves slightly aloof from the other residents? Does their de facto leader Ralph Greenwood, former manager of a notable law firm, hold the key to the investigation?

The writing is intense and very focused on Smith’s questioning technique. There is little action, other than repeated visits to Rosemary House. The mounting threat of a terrible snowstorm heading towards the town is key to the atmosphere, without being overdone. Smith himself is an endearing character. He is physically nondescript, but mentally as sharp as a tack, and his sense of world weary irony comes over very well, particularly in his exchanges with colleagues. There may be too much reliance on the back-story, which comes from Grainger’s previous novel, An Accidental Death. As much as the author tries to flesh out the background, there were moments when I really wanted to know more about why DC was acting, thinking and speaking in a particular way.

Instinctively, however, this novel feels right from page one. I have a copy of the first book in the series, and shall certainly go back and read it for my own pleasure. Smith is a complex character, full of quirks and personal idiosyncrasies. His colleagues are all well drawn, and I think that there is huge scope for this series to be developed. The narrative is quiet, contemplative, subtle and thoughtful if perhaps a little low key for some, but I look forward to meeting David Smith again.

Self-published
Kindle
£1.84

CFL Rating: 4 Stars

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