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by H. R. F. Keating
Pan, November 2004
300 pages
ISBN: 1405048069

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

This is the fifth in this series featuring Detective Superintendent Harriet Martens and this time the 'Hard Detective' may have gone a bit soft. Quite understandable really as she has become the first victim of the Birchester Poisoner.

Harriet and her husband were at a social function when Harriet sunbathing and snoozing in the hot sun took a swig of her Campari and soda. She immediately went cold and her tongue began to tingle.

By pure chance, her husband John had just read an Agatha Christie novel which described these symptoms as resulting from aconite poisoning. Quick action on his part saved Harriet's life. The Poisoner's next victims weren't so lucky.

Harriet has been told to avoid police work for several months as she is really quite poorly. She feels frustrated and believes there must be something she can do. DS Pat Murphy welcomes any help or theories she can supply but when the Poisoner strikes in London the National Crime Squad take over the case and banish Harriet from the police station.

When the Poisoner sends a letter to the local paper demanding one million pounds Harriet is able to develop a profile of the letter writer but it doesn't really gibe with the image of the Poisoner. The NCS naturally ignore all her theories and so she has to go it alone much to the disapproval of her husband.

I was expecting quite a lot from this novel as the author is a CWA Diamond Dagger winner but I'm afraid I was disappointed. As Harriet is so ill, a lot of the time she is commenting on how weak she is and will her brain ever recover. She has trouble doing the simplest tasks and so will itemise the task -- get key out of handbag, put key in door, turn key and so on.

All this rather slows the action down and I didn't find her a sympathetic enough character for me to care. In addition, the successful resolution to the case relies heavily on coincidence and luck. All in all, a very average read.

Reviewed by Karen Meek, December 2004

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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