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by Julie Parsons
Macmillan, January 2008
304 pages
16.99 GBP
ISBN: 0333906985

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

The action opens with a rather horrible death. A man has his hands cuffed behind his back and has been without food and water for more days than he is able to count. He is in considerable pain and discomfort and the reader is left wondering what sort of monster could possibly do these things to another human being.

In July 2005, Michael McLoughlin is enjoying the summer but is incredulous that retirement has finally hit him. He has been a policeman for a long, long time but has, at least, lined up a job that is more pleasure than work, just for the summer.

Margaret Mitchell still mourns the death of her murdered daughter, Mary, years after the event. McLoughlin, too is haunted by that death and by his warm feelings for the mother. Since the murder, Margaret has lived in Australia but now she has returned to Ireland.

In a moment of expansiveness, enjoying the pleasure of the moment at retirement, Michael has promised a friend that he will look into the death of Marina Spencer, a girl who was found by the coroner to have committed suicide, but Marina’s mother, Sally, cannot accept that verdict. Now Michael must face the consequence of his transient feeling of happiness and perform what he feels will be a brief job, but without the benefit of being part of an official investigation, complete with badge.

Unfortunately, Marina's death is not the last and Michael finds himself investigating a cluster of deaths that, in the normal run of things, would be statistically unlikely.

One aspect of this novel that I find realistic and one absent from so many books that narrate the doings of unofficial investigators, is the way Michael is constantly being pulled up short by the fact that he is no longer a policeman and so no longer has the resources of the Garda on which to call. He is uncomfortable at pulling the wool over trusting eyes when it comes to his own out-of- date credentials.

When I arrived at the denouement, I was surprised to find myself holding my breath and it's a long time since I had to admit to anything like that when reading a book. Parsons deserves full marks for the way she sustains the suspense.

Characterisation, too, was well done. I can imagine the urge of a newly-retired policeman to continue investigating-- as well as the frustration of needing to use methods previously foreign to him. Similarly, the conviction of the mother of the dead girl that her child would not have taken her own life is very plausible. The slightly forlorn, anxious to please Vanessa is beautifully depicted although at first I thought her to be much younger than she really is.

This is not a debut novel and it displays quite a lot of polish in its construction as well as its characterisation. On the whole, it's a good, if somewhat claustrophobic, read.

Reviewed by Denise Pickles, May 2008

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