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by Quintin Jardine
Headline, June 2011
384 pages
19.99 GBP
ISBN: 0755356926

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

I've spent the last few books in the long-running Bob Skinner series wondering where Jardine would take his character now that Skinner has finally achieved his ambition of becoming Chief Constable. The answer is…backwards. The book starts with Skinner in conversation with his wife, politician Aileen de Marco. Skinner's past is obviously catching up with him and he feels the need to confront the demons that still haunt him. This provides a convenient literary device for Jardine to revisit previous cases and in this book, Skinner himself becomes the narrator, an interesting departure in itself.

Fifteen years ago, Bob Skinner, a newly-promoted Detective Superintendent, is called to the scene of a brutal death. A man has been repeatedly dropped from a diving board into the deep end of an empty swimming pool, causing a long and painful death. Links to organized crime in the city seem obvious as the man was Tony Manson's driver, a name that will be familiar to anyone with knowledge of Skinner's later career. Almost at the same time, another spate of violence erupts in Edinburgh, this time apparently with a connection to the gay community as, in quick succession, two men are knifed in frenzied attacks. Both cases appear to be heading rapidly into dead-ends and Skinner begins to wonder if his career will go the same way if he can't make some headway.

Jardine certainly hasn't lost his touch as a storyteller, although I did feel it took him a while to settle into his own character's head. The reader is seeing a younger Bob Skinner through the eyes of the man he has become, and that air of reminiscence was occasionally quite jarring to the narrative flow, especially when Skinner addresses the reader directly. In many ways I would have preferred to have seen Jardine simply state that the story was set in Skinner's past, rather than adopt a sometimes clumsy method of delivery. As with the recent return to the early days of R.D. Wingfield's Jack Frost in FIRST FROST, I never felt wholly convinced that the author had actually made a successful return to the character's formative years without the future casting a long shadow back into the past and being more of an influence than was perhaps intended. In both cases I felt the authors hadn't fully made that transition to an earlier stage of the character's life and career.

That aside, the book provides Jardine's usual blend of character-driven police work coupled with the inevitable forays into Skinner's tangled love-life. The plot is complex but never impenetrable and the story moves along at a good pace, peopled by many familiar faces from Skinner's later life such as Tony Manson, Lenny Plenderleith and even such more recent faces as Tommy Zale.

I suspect we will be seeing other episodes from Skinner's past, but if Jardine does continue in this vein, I think the method of delivery will need re-examining. As a party trick, I'm not sure this will bear a repeat performance.

§ Linda Wilson is a writer, and retired solicitor, with an interest in archaeology and cave art, who now divides her time between England and France.

Reviewed by Linda Wilson, May 2011

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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