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by Patricia Hall
Allison and Busby, November 2004
288 pages
ISBN: 0749083077

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Patricia Hall's Ackroyd and Thackeray mysteries are a bleak series where happy endings never seem possible. I felt slightly unfulfilled by DEATH IN DARK WATERS, but FALSE WITNESS is right back on top form.

In many ways it's more of the same -- angst between journalist Laura Ackroyd and her policeman lover Michael Thackeray, and Laura's heavily politicised grandma poking her nose in. But the writing is controlled and precise, and the book has a dark, realistic feel to it, not least in its treatment of racism.

An unpopular headteacher of a special school for disturbed youngsters is murdered, and a black teenager is arrested for the crime. But DCI Thackeray, who was down south when it all happened, isn't quite sure if it's as safe a conviction as the not very delightful DCI Charles Hutton reckons. Hutton's a trouble-making racist, who seems determined to undermine and make trouble for Thackeray.

Laura, naturally, is poking round the story as well, which makes for more conflict between the pair. And the tension is heightened by the impending death of Thackeray's wife Aileen, who has been in a mental hospital for years after killing the couple's young son.

The plot itself is solid and gripping, but what really kept me hooked was Hall's world-building. The mythical town of Bradfield feels so real you can imagine you're there, with its multi-racial streets, solid municipal buildings and drug-ridden council estates. And the people are equally convincing, from the main characters down to the cameo roles. Hall can ink in an image with few words, such as the young Asian woman wearing a bright shalwar kameez who, when she opens her mouth, has the strongest of Yorkshire accents.

In many ways Hall is serving up more of the same in her books -- unresolved angst by the lorryload between the two main characters, Laura's 90-something former local councillor grandmother not being able to accept that she's not the force she once was in the corridors of power, and crime and unrest in a divided (both class and race-wise) community. But the writing and the character-development is such that it would be a mistake to miss out on FALSE WITNESS or the earlier books in this quality series.

Reviewed by Sharon Wheeler, December 2004

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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