Written by David Foster — On a wet and wintry night on north London’s Hampstead Heath, a long-buried body of a woman is found by a dog walker. Inspector Sam Cooper realises that there is no need for a hue and cry as the remains have been there for decades. When a man commits suicide in a nearby hostel, however, leaving behind strange drawings which seem to relate to the body on the Heath, a full scale investigation begins.
The dead woman is identified, and before long Cooper is forced to revisit the momentous events that took place in Paris in the summer of 1968. He uncovers a series of relationships which link the dead woman with a formerly high-profile British politician, and a mysterious man calling himself Renard, or the more prosaic Mr Fox, depending on the occasion. Meanwhile, Cooper’s personal life is going downhill at a rate of knots. His long time partner – and childhood sweetheart – has had more than enough of Cooper being married to the job. Even at work there are worries as his assistant DC Robinson has a thoroughly un-reconstructed attitude towards women which is doing him no favours at all.
Cooper visits Paris in order to investigate a road traffic accident in that tumultuous 1960s summer, and he makes certain assumptions which lead him – if not down a blind alley – away from the absolute truth. The elusive Mr Renard/Fox continues to evade capture, while yet another young woman, missing for years, becomes a new piece of the jigsaw. What happened to Tina Marsh, and just what went on in the grand house in Richmond where she went with her father? Was she sexually abused?
The author of In Heaven and In Earth likes to tell us what is happening, rather than show it. We are told what is going on via passages of lengthy explanatory dialogue. The trouble is, people don’t speak in huge blocks of uninterrupted text. They would run out of breath, and the listener would switch off. As a passing thought, I did wonder where murder mysteries would be without the ever reliable dog walkers and their inquisitive pets – it’s certainly becoming a trope of police procedurals both in print and on television.
The book has three areas of strength. The first is that Sam Cooper is a thoroughly decent and plausible police officer. He has got where he is by diligence, hard work and intuition. If he tends to neglect his nearest and dearest, then he isn’t the first or last DI to do so. Secondly, the plot is ingenious and well thought out. All of the strands are eventually knitted together, and Foster makes us believe in the cruel events – separated by decades – which have shaped the lives of the participants. Thirdly, the topographical descriptions are excellent: a wintry Hampstead Heath, a wind-buffeted Portsmouth ferry terminal, and a typical spring day in Paris – we are there, and we feel totally part of the scenery.
There is a deft and unexpected twist in the plot near to the end which I certainly hadn’t seen coming, and all in all this was a convincing and entertaining read.
CFL Rating: 4 Stars