Hauxwell, Annie - 'In Her Blood'
On a cold February morning, Catherine Berlin, financial investigator, finds the body of her informant, 'Juliet Bravo', floating in the Thames. Juliet Bravo's death is linked to an investigation into loan shark Archie Doyle, but when Berlin's unorthodox methods are blamed for the murder, she realises bigger predators are circling.
Berlin is a heroin addict, but the discovery of a second body threatens her supply chain. Suspended, incriminated, and blackmailed into cooperating with the detective leading the murder investigation, Berlin has seven days to solve the crime - and find a new supplier.
I had high hopes of this book. The notion of a new heroine - one with a dangerous addiction, possibly unreliable, even unlikeable - promised to be refreshing. This premise, I thought, would guarantee something new, bang up-to-date and different.
The principle difficulty, for me, was in the execution. Despite the freshness of the premise, the dialogue belonged to a brand of crime popularised in '70s TV cop shows. I loved those shows - my writing mentor, Ranald Graham, wrote a lot of them - but in a contemporary crime novel, this dialogue seems forced at best, archaic at worst. The constant references to Margaret Thatcher, and the peculiar cast of characters who knew the Krays, didn't help to bring the story to life; rather, it felt like an historical crime story. The heroine's clashes, which could have been magnificent (as the book blurb claims), fell short because she was cast against anachronistic males whose tactics lacked credibility.
There are appealing aspects to Catherine's character, not least the moral dilemma foisted on her by her addiction and its need to be fed. But after thrashing through the exposition and inner monologue which form the early part of the story, few occasions arise in which Berlin can prove her steel. The overall impression is of a foggy series of isolated incidents, too many of which involve forgettable or unlovable characters, without the thread needed to draw a reader through the story.
I was wholly prepared for it all to end horribly, largely because I didn't care enough about the cast to believe in their redemption. The climatic scene lacked punch because Hauxwell didn't anchor the action - I had no clear sense of who was poised where when the vital acts were committed. Without this, the emotional impact of the scene was diminished to such an extent it was hard to believe in the denouement that concluded the book.
It may seem strange if I say at this point that I'm looking forward to the next Catherine Berlin story. But I'm hopeful that, having established her heroine's proclivities, Hauxwell can concentrate her attention on delivering a more thoughtful, taut and modern sequel.
Sarah Hilary, England
Sarah Hilary is the Bristol-based winner of the Sense Creative Writing Award 2010 and the Fish Criminally Short Histories Prize 2008. In 2012, she launched Flashbang, a crime writing contest in association with CrimeFest. Sarah's working on a crime novel. Her agent is Jane Gregory.
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