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by Cath Staincliffe
Allison & Busby, May 2003
254 pages
17.99 GBP
ISBN: 0749006064

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

"Then maybe none of it would have happened like it did. None of the whole, stupid, bloody mess of it".

So says Sal at the beginning of this novel. She takes on a couple of cases which sound like the bread and butter of PI work.

Lucy Barker asks Sal to come and help her find out who is threatening her. She's a hotel receptionist. She can't think why anyone would have a grudge against her. Sal agrees to talk to some of Lucy's colleagues and see if the neighbours know anything. Maybe she can find out and confront the perpetrator who'll back off. Even Sal doesn't really believe it but this PI is a single mother who needs to keep earning money to keep her life ticking over.

Of course this case needs to be complicated to as fictional PI cases do to fill a whole novel. Sal soon finds out that her client doesn't have many friends, but while lots of people don't like her much, any reasons for them to be making threats just don't add up.

There are several subplots. In one, checking out a street where a wealthy couple is thinking of buying a house, Sal also comes across some disturbing stories of urban poverty and domestic violence, although these don't relate to the work she is being paid for. The other strand is that Sal's daughter Maddie is in trouble at school, and unhappy, and Sal can't find out why.

Cath Staincliffe is one of my favourite English PI writers, but I found this book a bit problematic. I don't expect protagonists to wrap everything up, life isn't that simple, but at work and at home, Sal's professional instincts and judgement seem to be a bit lacking this time. There were quite a few points at which I thought she should have realised something earlier, or acted differently. She was behaving more like a silly, meddling amateur sleuth than a private investigator at times.

Still, I like Sal and her voice, and the ending will keep me hanging on to find out what the future holds for her.

Reviewed by Luci Davin, July 2003

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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