Written by David Jackson, narrated by Jonathan Keeble — The early chapters of this police procedural are tremendously intriguing. A woman copper in Liverpool is murdered in her back garden, with a dead raven splayed over her face. Only when the crime scene investigators remove the bird do they learn her eyes have been gouged – or pecked – out. And that the raven has a note attached to its leg saying ‘nevermore.’
Even for people who are not fans of Edgar Allen Poe, that’s spooky. And, it’s a puzzle the police must struggle to work out. Not too long afterward, another copper is found murdered in his home, again with a dead bird nearby. In this case, it’s the policeman’s nose that’s missing. There’s a new message from a nursery rhyme reading: ‘along came a blackbird and snipped off her nose.’
While these crimes are bizarre, at least there’s something to work with. Both murdered officers were implicated in the death in custody of a mentally challenged youth a few years earlier. While an investigation cleared them of wrongdoing, the family and a large segment of the public blame the police for this death. Accordingly, the family is questioned, with all the renewed mutual hostility one might anticipate.
When two more police are killed who seem to have no connection to the earlier tragedy, what are the investigators to think? Are these new deaths merely a diversion? Jackson does a good job portraying the fractured relationships between the community and the police, writ small in this family tragedy, and writ large. The action is presented through alternating perspectives, mostly those of DS Nathan Cody and the unknown murderer, and you can judge their motives for yourself.
To Cody’s surprise he’s teamed up with a new murder unit detective, Megan Webley. Unbeknownst to the powers that be, Cody and Webley were once an item, engaged to be married even, until his love of the job put a wedge between them. They dance around each other, not wanting to bring up the past and focusing on with their current assignment. There’s a cop-killer out there, after all.
But Webley is now engaged to someone else, sees Cody become unhinged in several run-of-the-mill situations, and doubts his mental stability. His female supervisor treats him like her son, which means he must fight for every bit of autonomy needed to pursue the killer. His strange outbursts and reckless self-endangerment, as well as his boss’s overprotectiveness, hearken back to an experience a year earlier in which he was held and tortured by a mysterious group of kidnappers.
When Cody relives this hostage situation for the sympathetic Webley, you may begin to lose interest. The gruesome nature of the torture seems intended to titillate rather than build interest in Cody’s character. From there on out, the plot follows the well-trodden path of escalating craziness and bad decisions, woman-of-interest in danger, and drawn-out final resolution, with particularly ham-handed signalling towards a sequel.
Jackson’s previous books were based in New York, featuring Detective Callum Doyle. He explained that earlier choice in a Crime Fiction Lover interview in 2012. He lives in the north of England, though, and has done a nice job capturing Liverpool’s atmosphere and a sense of place.
Since this is an audiobook, the narration inevitably affected my reaction. In some passages Jonathan Keeble is terrific, but in others, it’s as if he’s narrating a silent film. They are jarringly melodramatic. Jackson’s prose doesn’t always help him, inspiring breathlessly read telling-not-showing sentences.
To sum up, the audio version of this book, at least, and possibly the book itself, are a mixed bag.
CFL Rating: 3 Stars