Police in Bradfield struggle to identify the body of a young woman found in a canal. While DCI Michael Thackeray, newly returned to work after leave to recover from an injury, is busy getting the investigation underway his girlfriend Laura Ackroyd, the features editor for the local paper, becomes involved with reporting on the local football team’s unexpected success. Eventually (and not at all surprisingly) the interests of the two meet when someone identifies that the dead girl was seen at a function held at the football club. Laura becomes even more embroiled in the case when she runs across a young woman who is an illegal immigrant and this gets her into trouble with her boyfriend.
The only other Thackeray and Ackroyd book I’ve read is Devil’s Game which is two books after this one in the long running series and I must say there’s quite a difference between the two. In my review for Devil’s Game I remarked on how refreshing it was to come across a series book that didn’t require prior knowledge of the characters and events in their lives but the same cannot be said for Death in a Far Country. A good deal of it is devoted to what everyone would say at an official inquiry that was being held into events which took place in a previous book and I found this quite distracting as I didn’t know what had happened and couldn’t work out much apart from the fact Michael Thackeray must have been injured. The rest of the plot was perfectly serviceable but I have to say it held few surprises and tackled its disturbing themes, including human trafficking, fairly superficially.
The characters are all quite believable though I didn’t really warm to any of them particularly. Michael Thackeray seemed almost eager to think the worst of his girlfriend and was quite unable to see things from her point of view though he expected her to see his point of view always. I thought the author was struggling to know what to do with Laura who at times was a strong-minded woman and at other times seemed particularly insipid. But my impression was tarnished a bit by the fact that quite a lot of the scenes involving Laura were to do with the events of the previous book that I had no knowledge of.
I know it’s difficult for writers of series to maintain the balance between keeping old fans happy and engaging new readers who haven’t read all the previous books but I thought this book did a pretty poor job of achieving that balance. However, having thoroughly enjoyed the later book I read I will give Patricia Hall another go.
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
My rating 2.5/5
Narrator: Michael Tudor Barns; Publisher: ISIS Audio Books ; ISBN: n/a; Length 8hrs 40mins; Setting:England, present-day.
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
Death in a Far Country has been reviewed at Reviewing the Evidence
Title: Devil’s Game
Author: Patricia Hall
Publisher: Allison & Busby 
No. of pages: 301 [hardcover]
In the West Yorkshire town of Bradfield Karen Barnstable disappears after participating in a ‘strangers have sex in public’ meet-up (the book calls it dogging which is not a phrase I’ve come across before) (apparently I’ve led quite the sheltered life). DCI Michael Thackery and his team take a while to unravel this aspect to her disappearance given all the participants’ unwillingness to admit to their activities but they doggedly pursue the evidence. In a parallel thread Thackery’s live-in partner, journalist Laura Ackroyd, becomes increasingly intrigued by her investigation into the takeover of the local comprehensive school by wealthy born-again Christian, David Murgatroyd.
The writing here is way above average. There’s a passage at the beginning where a young policewoman of Pakistani heritage has to interview the man who has reported his wife missing. The first line out of his mouth when he opens the door to her is “Are you the best they could send?” which combined with the racist political sticker in the window gives a pretty clear indication of how things will go. The scene plays out over only a couple of pages but manages to beautifully depict two very strong characters (the belligerent racist and the slightly nervous constable resigned to doing her job regardless of the treatment she receives).There’s a palpable sense of the tension building up in the room too. The rest of the book lives up to this early promise: having consistently concise yet evocative writing. Even the dialogue of locals is written in such a way that I heard it in a Yorkshire accent (well my inner voice’s version of that accent which sounded realistic enough to me).
I can’t think of anything terribly unique about the characters although they did engage me. Thackery reminded me a little of P D James’ Adam Dalgliesh. He doesn’t write poetry but he’s the same kind of intelligent loner (with all the pros and cons that brings) and is also haunted, sometimes to the point of inertia, by dramatic events from his past. I wanted to give him a good slap a couple of times which is often how I feel about Dalgliesh. I thoroughly enjoyed meeting Laura Ackroyd who seemed to be the kind of determined, investigative journalist we don’t see much of in the mainstream media these days. She and Thackery dealt with some personal issues in the book which I sometimes find a bit boring but here the balance between this and the rest of the plot was about right.
The plot is solidly constructed and credible but the climax wasn’t terribly surprising. Still I enjoyed finding out if my guess for the villain’s motivation was correct. I couldn’t get my head around how a private person could effectively take over a government-funded school but a stint on Google sorted out the intricacies of the English school system for me. I quite like it when books force me head off to ‘research’ (that sounds better than google as a verb doesn’t it?) because I can pretend I’m learning something useful and not just sitting around entertaining myself like a dilettante.
I’d not read a word by this author until the review copy of this book landed on my doormat although I now know there are 14 previous books in this series, the first of which was published in 1993. There were certainly references to previous events in Devil’s Game but not enough to prevent me enjoying this story on its own and any absolutely necessary explanations were succinctly provided. Having recently had a very different experience with a book that wasn’t the first in its series I was particularly grateful for this. I will be looking for more books in this series and can certainly recommend Devil’s Game if you’re at all interested in well-plotted police procedurals.
My rating 4/5
I was provided with a free copy of this book for review from the publisher via Murder & Mayhem bookclub