Title: Still Waters
Author: Nigel McCrery
Publisher: Quercus (2007)
In what is one of the most alarming openings to a book I’ve ever read, a children’s war-time tea party goes horribly wrong and readers spend the rest of the book trying to work out the connection to a modern-day crime. In the present day an old lady’s body is discovered on the fringe of some woodlands at the site of an unrelated car accident and Police have to unravel the story of how she came to be there. In parallel we meet another elderly lady called Violet (or is she?) who makes a habit out of befriending lonely, isolated women. Then killing them.
Called in from what is euphemistically known as ‘gardening leave’ to investigate is DCI Mark Lapslie who suffers from a neurological condition in which most sounds he hears trigger overwhelming taste sensations in his mouth. For example his mobile phone ring triggers the taste of chocolate (which sounds like yummy-ness without the calories) while the sound of a busy office triggers the taste of blood (less appealing all around I imagine). The book does a great job of demonstrating how such a condition impacts Lapslie’s life and the lives of those around him and seems quite realistic in its portrayal of how such a thing might drive and shape a person. In the end there isn’t a great deal of plot-driving point behind Lapslie’s condition but it would be a different story without this element because the condition does shape the Lapslie character.
The other major character in the story is Violet/Daisy who’s own character is equally well developed. Very early on we know she’s a killer but knowing that doesn’t detract at all from the building up of tension in the story. I found myself wanting quite desperately to know how she came to be the person she was and wondering what kind of connection she had (for there must have been one) to the awful event that opened the book.
There were quite a few story threads and potential plot devices that went nowhere or were left unresolved but I rather liked that. In many of the best-selling thrillers these days it seems as if everything that happens has to tie up neatly at the end which is so unlike real life. Here there were things that just happened and turned out to have no deeper meaning which made the whole thing more credible (and helped keep me guessing right to the end). This all added to the book’s unpredictability. There were several times when events happened and I thought I knew exactly how that particular thread would be resolved (having read a police procedural or three in my time) but in each case the predictable, forumulaic thing didn’t happen. The main story was resolved to my satisfaction so the loose ends that remained actually added to my enjoyment of the book rather than detracted from it.
The underlying reason for the events in the book were also, sadly, credible. Rather than larger than life serial killers making suits out of human skin (Thomas Harris) or similarly fantastical yarns this was a story that one can imagine happening in the real world. It’s about people who live on the fringes of society and to whom grizzly things can be done without much consequence. In fact a variation of this kind of thing did happen in my very own city not so long ago (google The Snowtown Murders if you’re interested).
I borrowed this book from a friend several months ago but, due to the ever growing TBR pile of my own books, was planning on giving it back un-read until I noticed it was scheduled for a Buddy Read at the Murder and Mayhem bookclub and I do enjoy discussing a book with others. I’m grateful to the person who scheduled it because I found the book to be a totally engrossing read with beautifully created imagry. On top of that it managed to do something quite different with a very familiar genre.
My Rating: 4.5/5
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