Written by Mari Hannah — Since her first outing in The Murder Wall, the Kate Daniels series has gone from strength to strength and my personal favourite Deadly Deceit made my list of top five books of 2013. So, we had high expectations for this fifth outing for DCI Kate Daniels and her partner Hank Gormley.
The author draws us in at once with a prologue about a brutal beating in a nightclub. We don’t yet know who any of the people are, we just feel the visceral dread of being caught up in such a situation. Within just a few short chapters, we discover the bodies of two men who have died in horrific circumstances within hours of each other, and realise the enormity of the problem that Kate Daniels and her team face.
The two men are the Allen brothers, both well known to the Serious Crime Squad operating in and around Newcastle. Their father – now deceased – had built a criminal empire in Glasgow, but had moved his family south of the border in an attempt to escape his criminal past and probably also his many enemies in Scotland. Is this a revenge killing and where will it stop?
Kate and her team have to put aside their personal dislike for the victims and find the perpetrator before they have a serious gang war on their hands. If that happens, the body count will rise and far too many innocent bystanders might get caught up in the carnage. The inquiry takes them from Newcastle to Glasgow, to the model village of Blanchland in Northumberland and the picturesque holiday destination of Alicante in Spain. There is not much respite and not much leeway for getting things wrong. Yet Kate is clearly exhausted and traumatised by this investigation and makes many bad – or at least unwise and barely legal – decisions.
Mari Hannah shows great familiarity with the less glamorous details of a police investigation. This is no TV version of a cop show, with a flashy interactive whiteboard surrounded by a team of cops who could double as models. Instead, we have living, breathing team members with all their petty squabbles and rivalries, their insecurities and doubts, their squeamishness at the bloody truths they uncover. They all have their foibles and flaws. None of them are superheros or founts of all wisdom, not even Kate’s former boss Chief Superintendent Bright, who makes a reappearance in this book, since he was familiar with the Allens and their crimes.
Hannah has previously done a great job at presenting each of the detectives on the squad as well-rounded characters with their own lives and concerns. In this novel, it is Kate’s partner DS Hank Gormley who really comes into his own. By turns gruff and gentle, brutally honest though concerned at Kate’s uncharacteristic snappiness, he develops something of the banter and bickering of a long marriage with his boss, which leads to a few (very welcome) lighter moments. However, I did feel that the balance the author had previously achieved between Kate’s private life (and her relationship with psychologist Jo Soulsby) and the criminal investigation has tipped a little too much towards the private side of the spectrum in this book.
A solid enough entry in the series, but doesn’t quite hit the sweet spot for me. It’s difficult to care wholeheartedly about the death of hardened criminals, no matter how gruesome their demise. The plotting and descriptions become a little mechanical at times, instead of the beautiful natural flow and complexity that I had come to expect from previous Mari Hannah novels. However, I will continue to follow whatever she writes, because there is no doubting the authenticity, empathy and commitment of Kate Daniels and her creator.
Killing for Keeps is on sale from 4 December.
CFL Rating: 4 Stars