Written by Rebecca Bradley — Here at Crime Fiction Lover, we like to discover new authors, whether traditionally or self-published. Rebecca Bradley’s debut novel introduces us to the seedier side of Nottingham and to DI Hannah Robbins, a dedicated, hard-working police officer with a nice line in self-deprecation, a thick enough skin to make it in a man’s world, and yet plenty of compassion for the victims of crime.
Hannah gets called upon to lead the team looking into the death of a girl in her early teens, who has been found dumped naked in a bin in a dark alleyway. The body shows signs of prolonged torture and sexual assault, which makes it an emotional and difficult investigation for all those involved. Identification proves difficult, and, when a second girl is found dead shortly afterwards, there is increasing pressure on the team to come up with quick results and prevent further cases. Yet Bradley’s realistic style shows precisely how hard it is to establish a connection between the two cases, beyond the MO.
This book’s very dark subject matter – bad parenting, runaway children, sex offenders, abuse of minors, keeping victims imprisoned for weeks – certainly does not make for easy reading. However, the author is careful to allow the reader to infer more from conversation and reactions, rather than filling the book with very graphic, unsettling descriptions.
Above all, this is a solid police procedural, showing just how much an investigation relies on team effort and patient research to establish connections. Hannah is not a lone maverick, ignoring all rules and procedures and putting herself in danger. I cannot tell you how refreshing it is to have a strong female lead who is not depressed, alcoholic (even if she does like the occasional glass of wine) or profoundly traumatised. There are hints at darker things in Hannah’s past, enough to make us want to see them resurface in future books, but the balance between personal life and actual investigation is spot-on for a first book in a series. Hannah even has a boyfriend, Ethan, although there is a nice element of ambiguity to their relationship, since he is a reporter and neither we nor Hannah are ever quite sure whether it is a purely disinterested relationship.
For all its professional tone and good narrative pacing, the novel shows a couple of weaknesses, not all that uncommon in debuts. It is told largely in the first person, from Hannah Robbins’ point of view, alternating with third person descriptions of the fear and despair of one of the victims. On the whole, this works well and we get a great insight into the main character, although we are occasionally told rather than shown her feelings about the investigation. However, there are also some chapters written in the third person from the perspective of one of Hannah’s team members and this particular sub-plot just did not work for me.
The second criticism one might make is that the author is sometimes a little too eager to share with the reader all of her research into police procedures and forensics. You may find some nuggets of fascinating new information, and it does not slow down the novel substantially, but it is perhaps something for the author to bear in mind in future novels.
These are minor quibbles, and Shallow Waters is very well presented for a self-published novel. It’s a promising series start, with hard-hitting subject matter and viable characters.
CFL Rating: 4 Stars