Elaine Napier is 40-ish and has lost her job as a journalist. Those investigative skills – what to do with them? Well, she has set up a true crime podcast that looks into cold cases. Her first investigation is into the disappearance of Katrin Gunnarsdottir, a young Icelandic woman who worked in property and whose case was never solved.
Straight away you’ll start to wonder about Elaine’s thinking. Is she doing this because she’s bored? To revive her career maybe? Is podcasting her passion? Early chapters take us into a boxing gym, where she’s preparing for a fight and soon we find out that Katrin was also into boxing. In fact, Elaine is using the same trainer. This is strange. It looks like Elaine is practising a crime-solving version of method acting.
There’s a lot going on with Elaine. More than a crashed career. She has a much deeper connection to the case. Just like Katrin, Elaine’s younger sister went missing back when they were children. Maybe she needs some kind of closure. Or perhaps it’s justice she wants. How far will she go to get it?
Early in the story, Rabbit Hole has a modern, urban feel, with that frisson of modern technology. It feels a little like one of PJ Tracy’s Monkeewrench novels which, even though they were written over a decade ago, felt cutting edge at the time. Elaine’s friend Isaac edits the podcast for her, is a drinking buddy and accompanies her as moral support – when she goes to have her face battered at amateur boxing, for example. Plus, there’s the Columbo-esque Dutch private detective who was hired by Katrin’s parents at the time the woman disappeared. He helps Elaine because the Katrin case is the one that nearly broke him, the one that got away. The police weren’t much good then, and they’re not much good now, threatening Elaine with legal action.
Elaine has suspects too. There’s Katrin’s needy boyfriend. There’s the taxi driver who dropped her off the night she disappeared. There’s the mysterious man who was on a flight back from Iceland with Katrin, and who apparently followed her out of the airport. And there’s the other mysterious man – the one colleague Katrin may have been having an affair with. Oh, and who the heck is this Lewis Carroll, the person leaving messages for Elaine, posting on Facebook, and so forth? What do they know about the case? Elaine traipses around London, prying and questioning, and makes dozens of phone calls too.
Some of the chapters are presented as though they’re the transcripts of Elaine’s podcast, similar to the approach that is so successful in Matt Wesolowski’s Six Stories mysteries. But Jon Richter isn’t so attached to a conceptual approach, and much of the story is told in prose like a contemporary mystery. Plenty more characters are thrown into the story along the way, many of whom you’ll take on board as suspects even when Elaine doesn’t.
That’s because the mystery element is nicely tuned up, the author keeping you on your toes. This isn’t a novel for atmosphere so much, it’s more about the plot. And the plot is tightly woven enough to keep the pages turning. It’s perfect reading for the commute or, if you’re not back at work yet, for a couple of afternoons sitting by the window whiling the world away through crime fiction.
And that boxing thing turns out to be more interesting than it first seemed. While Elaine may have thought it would get her into the vibe of understanding the missing Katrin, getting beaten up is also a way of uncovering some interesting suspects as well – some of whom are rather menacing. So, yes, there’s an edge of danger in Rabbit Hole too.
CFL Rating: 4 Stars