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by Iain McDowall
Dunne Books, September 2002
288 pages
ISBN: 0312278489

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Making a Killing is the second in a series featuring the police detectives of fictional Crowby in Yorkshire. I enjoyed the first, A Study in Death, but felt that it was a bit too short, and lacking in characterisation and depth. This second book is about 50 percent longer and I'm pleased to say that the result is a much more complete novel, a welcome improvement.

The first book made mention of Crowby's most notorious criminal, Robert Johnson, a serial rapist known as the Crowby Crawler. Johnson has now been released on parole, and has returned to live in Crowby bringing with him a host of problems for the police as press and vigilantes cause an uproar in the usually quiet town. McDowall's portrayal of the Crawler is all the more chilling for its matter of fact nature. As the full extent of his previous and planned crimes is revealed by his thoughts, Robert Johnson becomes one of the creepiest villains in recent memory, and this is achieved with a minimum of the gore and violence which usually accompanies such books.

At the same time a local businessman's wife is brutally murdered, and police resources are stretched to the limit by the two separate cases. The press want to blame the Crawler for the murder, the police have the husband down as the main suspect, but there are plenty of other possibilities for the reader to consider. The murder investigation also includes one of the best treatments of e-mail and internet that I've seen in crime fiction, understatement rather than oversimplification or excessive complexity.

Understatement also applies to the ending, no long winded explanations here, but it does raise some disturbing questions on possibly controversial issues. I normally like this style of ending, but this one is a bit too abrupt, and I'm sure it won't suit everybody.

The two main police characters, Chief Inspector Jacobsen and DS Kerr, are much more lifelike in this book and most of the important characters have distinct and individual voices. Dialogue and humour are two of my main criteria for characterisation and they are consistently good in this book. I wouldn't describe Making a Killing as a humorous book, but when the occasional witty, tension breaking line is used it is often very funny. Actions and behaviours are consistent and believable throughout and the ongoing series characters are people that I'll be happy to spend time with in the future.

Making a Killing is a very good book, a fine addition to the rich world of British procedurals, and I hope it leads to a long series.

Iain McDowall has a web site at www.crowby.co.uk

Note : this review is based on the UK hardcover edition published by Piatkus in November 2001. Making a Killing will be published in the US in September 2002.

Reviewed by Paul Richmond, July 2002

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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