Written by Lynda La Plante — The detective Jane Tennison needs little introduction thanks to the stellar success of the television series Prime Suspect. First appearing in 1991, Tennison was brought to life on the small screen by Helen Mirren, the determined and capable senior DCI wrestling with pervasive sexism in the Metropolitan Police as well as her own personal demons. In recent times, Lynda La Plante has been fleshing out the backstory and this is the third novel covering the character’s early years. The first throwback novel was just called Tennison, and followed the newly minted WPC as she emerged from Henley Training College in 1972. It formed the basis for the ITV drama Prime Suspect 1973. We reviewed the book it here.
In Good Friday things have moved forward to 1976. London is living under the constant threat of IRA bombs. The campaign has been relentless and bloody. Jane is a newly qualified Detective Constable champing at the bit with a guv’nor who, while not explicitly stating it, seems to be holding her back because she is a woman. Her frustration at Bow Street as she deals with minor cases soon bubbles over and she gets herself transferred to the Dip Squad. They are a scruffy team of misfits led by the good looking DCI Church working to catch the teams of pickpockets that plague the busy streets of London.
Before long Tennison is immersed in the race to thwart the most recent IRA bomb plans. That brings her into contact with the enigmatic womaniser Dexter and we get a taste of the personal turbulence that permeates Tennison’s life. Dexter is a one man emotional disaster area with a background in bomb disposal.
The book is slow to start and the first few chapters feel heavy on the exposition. Given La Plante’s prodigious experience in TV, it’s a little surprising that it feels clunky. It does lighten within a few dozen pages as Jane becomes active but I never felt the story, despite a great premise, roared into life.
Tonally, Good Friday is a vivid evocation of the 1970s. You can almost hear the static crackling as the polyester swishes. La Plante doesn’t over-egg it but the background of bigotry, casual racism and sexism lingers on. The details around the emerging forensic capabilities of the Metropolitan are intriguing.
The viewpoint is mostly Jane’s but there is a little bit of head-hopping. It doesn’t always work and you may find yourself re-reading sections to work out what’s going on. It also has the unfortunate effect of leaching tension out of scenes. Despite the warm glow we all feel for Jane Tennison she is a difficult character to engage with in this tale. And, there isn’t enough pace in the story to whisk us through this. Even the final dramatic scenes are curiously flat. Good Friday will please existing fans interested in the character, but it might struggle to win over many new ones.
Lynda La Plante has an astonishing pedigree and in Jane Tennison she has created one of the most enduring of female detective leads. You can read our interview with Lynda La Plante here and learn of her underlying motivations for this latest Jane Tennison story. Prime Suspect is one of our top 20 crime shows of all time, and opened the door to many others. It’s impact continues to be felt. This book will appeal to the legion of Jane Tennison fans who will lap up this exploration of the early years.
CFL Rating: 3 Stars