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DEAD AND BURIED
by Quintin Jardine
Headline, July 2006
384 pages
11.99GBP
ISBN: 075530411X


Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Where do I start with Quintin Jardine's DEAD AND BURIED? One minute I couldn't put the book down . . . The next I wanted to heave it at the wall!

I've a very vague memory of having read one of Jardine's Bob Skinner mysteries some years ago and being fairly underwhelmed by it. And this latest showing is no help when it comes to helping me decide if I want to go back and fill in the gaps.

Jardine has a distinctive writing voice which veers on the edge of being irritating. Now, I like snappy dialogue as much, if not more, than the next woman, so being slapped around the chops by dialogue isn't necessarily a problem for me. But what is a problem is when that dialogue sits on the page like an indigestible steak and kidney pudding.

And Jardine's a fan of the information dump, where the poor, unsuspecting reader finds the already tepid dialogue being used to tell someone what they already know. Here's an example where Skinner and McIlhenney are talking about colleagues. Skinner's a deputy chief constable for heaven's sake, and should know who his subordinates' assistants are, given he probably deals with them several times a day.

McIlhenney says: "You gave us short notice, but Alice Cowan, my assistant, briefed me an hour ago."

Oh, and Skinner, whose marriage is over, is having an affair with the Scottish justice minister, and just happens to overlook the fact she has high security clearance, so frequently tells her more than she needs to know, just in case the reader has missed something.

There are some gems amidst the murk, and Jardine does do black humour rather well, particularly in the early scenes where a bookmaker has a bizarre run-in with a client. But the tension is lacking -- Jardine needed to rein back on the plot strands, of which there's at least one too many. And he could do to weed out some of his characters; it's difficult to tell all the mid-ranking plods apart, let alone their other halves.

As far as those plot threads go, Skinner has killed a man during a high profile job. He's then press-ganged into going down to London to deal with some murky goings-on at the very highest levels. Oh, and his daughter Alex is being stalked. Meanwhile, colleagues are having to deal with the bookmaker case. And the chief constable suddenly decides he just has to investigate a missing persons case from aeons back.

Few novels deal with the very high-up cops -- and probably for a very good reason, as they are generally desk-bound. Skinner is a deputy chief constable, but seems to get out and about an inordinate amount for someone who would realistically be in meetings a lot of the time.

And this gave me some problems with the book. Would Skinner really be asked to investigate the incident when he took part in it and would be called as a witness when it got to court? And even though the chief constable is described several times as a desk bloke who spent little time on the beat earlier in his career, would he really need his deputy to talk him through how to find a missing person?

The spooks line is too sketchy, and the ending pretty much turns into a bog-standard thriller rush hither and thither one, which is resolved in time for tea. It was by far the most unsatisfactory part of the book -- the strands involving Alex being stalked and the dead bookie are miles better.

It's always problematic coming into a series a long way down the line, as the characters are more or less set in tablets of stone by then. Skinner is supposed to be scary, but that doesn't come across -- he's portrayed more as a brisk but amiable sort who's popular with his staff.

So DEAD AND BURIED is an odd one. It's not a bad book and what annoyed me might not irritate someone more at home with the series. But for someone waltzing in partway through, there are a lot of head-scratching moments.

Reviewed by Sharon Wheeler, July 2006

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)


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