Written by Sheryl Browne — If, like in physics, there was a First Law of Crime Fiction, then it would state that all police detectives are cynical, misanthropic and have a tragic personal history. Sheryl Browne’s DI Matthew Adams – a young English copper working near London – ticks the boxes. Bullied as a child; an over-aspirational policeman father; his only daughter killed in a hit-and-run incident; his wife miscarrying… he certainly has his crosses to bear. He’s prone to asthma attacks when he becomes stressed, and to cap it all his whole life is dominated by the baleful shadow of another man – local gangster, pimp, and drug dealer, Patrick Sullivan.
Adams is convinced that Sullivan was responsible for his daughter’s death, while Sullivan blames Adams for the death by shooting of his brother. Sullivan has his own bêtes noires. One is his drunken wreck of a father who still belittles Patrick as an ineffectual milksop. The other is Hayes, a local Mr Big and drug baron, to whom Sullivan owes a serious amount of money after a drug shipment went missing. Adams is desperate to bring Patrick Sullivan to justice. He wants it so badly that he plans to plant several packages of cocaine on his arch-enemy. What could go wrong?
Well, things go awry when Adams is goaded into punching Sullivan’s lights out, thus earning himself a temporary suspension from duty.
As the stags lock horns, in the background we have the tale of Adams’ young niece, Ashley. Her mother is a helpless drug addict, so Adams and his wife Rebecca decide to foster the teenager, not knowing that Ashley has an invisible but ever present alter ego – Emily. Sullivan has learned that Adams has inherited a large sum of money, and so he hatches a plan which will hit several birds with the same stone. He aims to abduct Rebecca and hold her to ransom, thus causing maximum pain to Adams as well as paying his dept to Hayes. Needless to say, young Ashley and her hidden friend become embroiled in the ensuing mayhem.
We reviewed Sheryl Browne‘s earlier novel The Edge of Sanity, and like that book Death Sentence is very much full of sound and fury. Sullivan is suitably depraved and, if he had a moustache he would be twirling it to great effect. For all his snarling, threats and liberal slapping about of terrified females, I am not sure he is too high up in the charts of fearsome fictional psychopaths. He also has an Achilles heel – one that is cleverly flagged up by the author and then exploited to good effect.
The book’s great strength is in how clearly and perceptively the characters’ personalities are described and how they knit together, or strike sparks off one another. Ashley seems the best written and most convincing character, though her ability to stop a car’s ignition using a psychic power will raise a questioning eyebrow or two. Although he is almost continually hyper-ventilating, Matthew Adams is a hero with whom we can readily and easily identify, and his psychological state is portrayed with a subtlety not always present in the action sequences.
Death Sentence is not without faults, but the action rattles on at a great pace, and if your taste leans towards a straightforward good versus evil battle, with a touch of melodrama and a touch of romance, you will enjoy this book.
Death Sentence is available from 1 June.
CFL Rating: 4 Stars