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by Caro Ramsay
HarperCollins Canada, July 2007
388 pages
$22.95 CAD
ISBN: 000200691X

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

When Alan McAlpine was just out of police training college, he lost his brother in an accident at sea. It seemed like a good idea to give him a simple and undemanding job - to stand guard over a nameless woman as she lay in hospital, horribly mutilated in an acid attack.

McAlpine never sees her face, covered as it is in protective gauze, except later, in a photograph, but for whatever reason, he falls in love, if not with her precisely, then with the idea of her. He calls her Anna. Very pregnant at the time of the attack, she bears a child, a daughter, and then she dies. And it is then that McAlpine discovers that she had a closer connection to his life than he could ever have imagined.

Twenty-two years later, McAlpine, now a successful Detective Chief Inspector, finds himself back at Partickhill police station, where his career began. He is married, to a woman, Helena, a prominent artist and gallery owner, whom he met in the course of his duties. Their relationship is strained, as relationships involving senior police officers tend to be. Helena is keeping the news that she has discovered a lump in her breast strictly to herself for the moment.

He has been returned to Partickhill to deal with a series of brutal murders of women. Because of how the bodies are posed, the press has dubbed the murderer 'the Crucifixion killer'. Catching him is pressing, but McAlpine finds himself overwhelmed by memories of the past, his obsession with Anna, and his guilt at what he believes are the emotional and moral failures in his life.

Rather than being the inspirational leader he was supposed to be, he gradually and inexorably falls apart, his team pretty much taking over the investigation, though he of course goes off in his own direction, with predictable and tragic results.

ABSOLUTION is a first novel and has many of the flaws we might expect, chief among them a lack of focus. Still, Ramsay writes often brilliantly and always sensuously. She can invent convincing characters and bring them to life with a telling detail. Perhaps there really is something in the Scottish water that accounts for the ever-increasing list of accomplished crime novelists coming from that country. Whatever the reason, Ramsay shows every sign of joining their ranks.

Reviewed by Yvonne Klein, May 2008

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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