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by Judith Cutler
Allison and Busby, October 2005
288 pages
ISBN: 0749082763

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Chief Superintendent Frances Harman is just months off retirement. But instead of planning a world tour, or trips out with friends, she is contemplating moving from one side of the UK to the other to be with her ageing and demanding parents.

As it is she spends every weekend zooming from Kent to Devon to stock their freezer, do their washing and listen to their gripes. This pressure, added to her responsibilities as a high-flying policewoman, is slowly grinding her into the ground. And then her boss Mark, with whom there is a burgeoning romance, asks her to investigate a cold case.

A mystery woman has been in a persistent vegetative state in hospital for two years after being raped, beaten and left by a roadside. If the hospital takes her off life support, whoever attacked her will be guilty of murder. So Fran is asked to re-examine the case.

Fran's a great character, as is Mark. And they carry the book, which turns out to be a good, diverting read for a cold Sunday afternoon. The plot has possibilities, but there are several moments where you go 'hang on, why doesn't she . . .?' And I'm still not convinced by the reasoning to get Fran investigating Elise's attack. Surely a minion would have been in on this? And would the police really bother to re-open it anyway?

One of the reasons I never quite warm to Cutler is because I'm rarely convinced by her supporting cast. Her leading characters always shine as paragons of virtue, but those around them tend to be snotty and unpleasant. In LIFE SENTENCE, the chief constable changes from a sexist pig to a benevolent Shakespeare-quoting figure with absolutely no explanation or exploration.

The carer angle is painful to read, and rings absolutely true. But an engrossing book is marred by a far too tidy ending with every single little aspect tied up tight with a bow.

So, as usual, I have mixed feelings about Cutler. There's a lot to like in LIFE SENTENCE, and I found myself hoping Fran might come back as a series character. Cutler is never less than readable, but there are a few too many moments that made me pull a face!

Reviewed by Sharon Wheeler, October 2005

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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