Dalton, John - 'The Concrete Sea'
Don Avoca, a veteran, independent Private Investigator, arrives in Birmingham by train to help solve the death of Kate Connor, his client's daughter. Don is obviously unwell, thinks he is being followed and hears voices. However he has been employed by an old client, Pat Connor, despite his mental state, to investigate this cold case, to get him on his feet again.
The disappearance of Kate Connor, a level-headed, conscientious student, was never solved. It was a big case at the time, and as she was not a drinker or a potential runaway, (her leisure pursuits were painting and playing the flute), the chances of finding her dwindled to nothing.
Fifteen months later though, a surveyor found her remains, while inspecting the wasteland around a disused iron foundry. Don's client arranges for him to relieve the original local investigator, the tired-eyed Jackie, who offers him unpaid assistance.
There seems to be nowhere to start, so they plan an unofficial visit to the site where Kate was found, and squeeze through the fencing into a desolate place, in the centre of what Don thinks of as "100 square miles of concrete and brick". Lying beside the crime scene the police had left, Don picks up what he thought was a conker - but it's a sea bean. They are seeds, he tells Jackie, that fall into rivers in the Caribbean and float out to sea where the Gulf Stream carries them to the coasts of Europe. Jackie tells him that the pathologist found fish bones in Kate's throat! And now there are sea beans from the Gulf Stream? "We are 100 miles from the sea here!" she says.
There are no clues, no useful evidence, so Don decides to start anywhere; they could explore the possibility of local crime being involved; or even a connection with Kate's father's businesses. Somebody had a reason to hide the body of a quiet young woman where she was unlikely to be found. Their research provides answers to questions they hadn't thought to ask, but their investigation results in violence, aimed at Don, confirming his paranoia.
This astringently written, dark, rain-sodden book, with its hopeful conclusion, has the pleasure of John Dalton's phonetically accurate ear for the Birmingham accents of the locals - all of whom seem to have been born somewhere else.
Mary Wilde, England