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by Lin Anderson
Hodder & Stoughton, September 2008
340 pages
19.99 GBP
ISBN: 0340922427

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

When the mutilated body of a young woman is discovered in the Glasgow Necropolis (that city's magnificent hilltop cemetery) the immediate discovery that there is another body which has been similarly mutilated buried just beneath the first alerts the police and forensic pathologist Rhona MacLeod to the fact that they have a serial killer on their hands. Investigations soon show that the first girl was a prostitute and that another teenage prostitute is missing. Rhona and the police embark upon a desperate quest to not only unearth the killer but also if possible to save the missing girl, Terri.

This is the fifth book in the Rhona Macleod series (there is also a prequel novella) and so there are some storylines and characters carried over from previous books: the police in the form of DI Bill Wilson and DS McNab, Rhona's assistant Chrissie and Rhona's live-in lover the jazz musician Sean. The major new character in this book is Magnus Pirie, a psychology professor who is drafted in to assist the investigation with profiling. The brief summary given in the first paragraph should indicate the type of book this; it is a 'prostitute serial killer book' with a heavy emphasis on forensics and multiple quotations from examples of real life serial killer behaviour.

The problem with EASY KILL (and indeed books in this sub-genre) is one of realism because that is the criterion which it sets itself up to be judged by. Realism here tends to be equated with the most unpleasant facets of human existence (which in any wider sense already means the book is unrealistic) and here we have teenage street prostitution, drug addiction and serial killers. One problem for me was that the feel, to me, of the first two in particular was pretty stereotypical ; there was nothing which did not seem rather like a TV documentary and I am very far from confident that these capture much reality. The description of the actual experience of drugs was especially unconvincing (in fairness this is always the case and I suppose one cannot expect writers to actually take drugs to find out!).

What was very interesting about the book though was that there was one character who really did take off as genuine and rounded, Terri's mother Nora. Nora knows nothing of the world of drugs and prostitution and her fear and disbelief and acceptance of her lack of understanding were by a long way the best thing in the book. But, quite extraordinarily, she is dropped as a character about half way through and never really reappears.

The other problem with realism of course is that if you leave it at that level then the result is going to be a very dull book. So characters start behaving in very stupid ways in order that the suspense can be built and enough jeopardy situations established (at least Anderson has a man behave most stupidly and have a man-in-jeopardy situation for once). Anderson explains the way in which the characters get themselves into jeopardy situations by postulating that the killer was preying on their personality flaws, an explanation which while quite clever in narrative terms did not seem to me very 'realistic'.

Given the book's material and setting comparisons with Taggart (now by far British television's longest running detective series) are inevitable; they are also instructive. In its absolute pomp (the MacManus years of the early to mid 1990's) Taggart was gloriously unrealistic; plots were gothic, byzantine and absurd. The series soared in terms of visuals, plots, performances. Nowadays it is a formulaic British cop show, which means 'realist'. EASY KILL sadly can be equated with late-era Taggart. If you like this sort of approach, or are a fan of the series, then the book will probably not disappoint. But for anyone who looks for that little something extra this may not really be where to find it.

Reviewed by Nick Hay, January 2009

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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