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by Simon Hall
Accent Press, September 2010
336 pages
7.99 GBP
ISBN: 1907016066

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

TV journalist Simon Hall has kept a very quirky series featuring yes, you've guessed it, a TV journalist, bubbling along. The plots always seem to come out of leftfield, but there's a healthy dose of topicality in his fiction.

THE BALANCE OF GUILT is the fifth outing for Dan Groves and he's on a big story after a 16-year-old English schoolboy detonates a bomb in Wessex Minster as part of an Islamic plot. And, as usual, Dan worms his way onto the police investigation. From the start, though, we know that Dan is unconscious in hospital, so the book becomes an intriguing account of how he ended up there.

The police procedural aspect has always been the least convincing element of the books, mainly because the character of DCI Adam Breen always seems a tad far-fetched to me he's under-drawn and seems to spend a lot of time stamping around being petulant. This time there are a couple of spooks to annoy him.

And Hall never quite convinces on that perennial problem facing writers how an amateur sleuth is introduced realistically into the plot. Dan takes it as read that he'll be on the inside with the police, and is naively astounded when the spooks send him packing. In journalism terms there's a huge difference between cultivating sources and getting too close to them and the latter is what Dan does.

So there are times when you may have to check your scepticism in at the door, particularly when it seems to be Dan and Adam against the world. Oscar and Sierra, the two spooks, don't particularly convince either it's a case of less would undoubtedly have been more, especially in the over-the-top portrayal of Oscar.

THE BALANCE OF GUILT is slow to get going, and doesn't really pick up the pace until the second half of the book and even then it's not high on tension until the last 20 pages or so. And it's somewhat unbalanced by too much space being given to the saga of Dan's beloved dog Rutherford at a time when the plot should have been steaming ahead.

So this isn't the best book in the series by quite some way it's lacking the quirky, puzzle-type angle that make the others worth the read. Spooks and Islam extremists are ten a penny in thrillers these days, and done more convincingly that Hall manages here.

Where the series has also scored in the past is in the media side of things. News editor Lizzie is still a grade A prima donna, but rises to the challenge here when it matters. I'd like to have seen more of the picaresque range of colleagues who help or hamper Dan in his search for the story we don't get enough of Nigel, Loud and El in THE BALANCE OF GUILT, due to the police angle imbalance.

Sharon Wheeler is a UK-based journalist, writer and lecturer.

Reviewed by Sharon Wheeler, March 2012

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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