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by V. L. McDermid
HarperCollins, November 2004
320 pages
ISBN: 0007191758

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Lindsay Gordon has moved down to London from Glasgow, to a new job and a new life with her partner, Cordelia Brown. The job is going reasonably well, but Lindsay isn't so sure about life with Cordelia. Cordelia is a writer, and somehow the ambience of their life together has changed since the physical distance has been removed.

This shift in the relationship becomes more pronounced when Lindsay is called to cover an assault at a women's peace camp. The women are protesting at USAF cruise missiles being stored on English soil at the Brownlow Common. It seems that Deborah Patterson, one of the peace camp women, was involved in a confrontation with Rupert Crabtree, founder of Ratepayers Against Brownlow's Destruction (RABD). Her version is that he tripped over his dog's leash, fell into the back of a phone box, and broke his nose. His version is that Deborah grabbed his hair and smashed his face into the box.

The peace camp has been at Brownlow for a long enough period of time that the tents have been replaced by semi-permanent structures, the locals have pretty much taken sides, and harassment of the camp is tolerated, if not ignored, by the police.

Within the peace camp, there is dissension as well. The hard-liners resent women like Lindsay, whom they see as dilettantes or glory-hounds. They specifically view Lindsay with a jaundiced eye, because she is a reporter. Decision making at the peace camp is by consensus, which makes for some long meetings; it is decided that Lindsay, while functioning as a reporter on an official level, will also do some judicious investigating. The women at the peace camp would like to see her report favorably on their actions; Lindsay feels compelled to be fair.

The stakes go up exponentially when Rupert Crabtree is killed. Patterson is, of course, a suspect. But there are others with equally valid motives. The treasurer of RABD may have been juggling the books. Crabtree's son has a business he'd like his father to support; his father is upset because Simon has chosen a career path foreign to Rupert. Crabtree's daughter is looking to expand her vegetarian restaurant Rubyfruits, which Crabtree has helped get off the ground. Further support will not be forthcoming if Rupert figures out that his daughter is gay; in fact, he may call in the loan, which would present a major problem for Ros Crabtree. And then there is his mistress. Is his wife aware of this relationship?

This is the second in the Lindsay Gordon series. Lindsay grows over the series, based on my reading of a later work. COMMON MURDER came out in 1989. I hadn't realized that 15 years could date a book so much, although it is in little things (like technology) that point this up, far more than things eternal, such as relationships and human frailty.

I enjoyed this book. Lindsay Gordon is good at what she does professionally, and all too human in her relationships with friends and lovers. Lindsay's dislocation from Glasgow to London has caused her to re-examine some of her life choices; she is not the same person at the end of the book that she was at the beginning. Her prior relationship with Deb Patterson makes her less than objective about some fairly important details, for example.

In these days of post-9/11 edginess, it was disheartening to read about the peace camps and the reactions to them; some things don't seem to change. COMMON MURDER may technically qualify as a cozy or malice domestic, but it is certainly closer to the noir end of the spectrum. I'd be glad to read more McDermid, and almost certainly will. I suggest you do the same.

Reviewed by P. J. Coldren, April 2005

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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