Written by Linda Gruchy — This is a confident and unusual debut novel: you get three types of story for the price of one. I don’t mean that in a bad way, as if the author can’t make up her mind what type of novel it is. Instead, there is a logical progression from a fairly straightforward police investigation to courtroom drama and on to gangland violence. I also liked the local setting for the novel: this is no depressing urban landscape, nor a cosy village strewn with cadavers à la Midsummer Murders. It is commuterland Essex, with semi-detached houses, inquisitive neighbours and idyllic woodland walks. A common, everyday place, where any one of us might live. And the main character, Meg Rusher, might be any one of us, getting involved in something that we cannot comprehend.
Meg is apparently an ordinary housewife and mother of three, who just happens to encounter a very disturbing scene in the woods: two men whipping a naked man nearly to death. She calls the police on her mobile but is attacked while doing so. She fights off the thugs, shooting one in the process and severely beating up the other. It was self-defence, she claims, but the police find out that Meg is a former kick-boxing champion and begin to have doubts about her version of events.
Throughout the book we alternate between Meg’s point of view as related in her diary, and the third-person account of the police investigation. This makes us empathise with Meg, but it does not necessarily convince us of her innocence. There seem to be a lot of problematic issues around the evidence and the statements made by the men are also difficult to discount. Plus, Meg isn’t exactly helping herself with her sometimes erratic behaviour around the police.
The descriptions of Meg’s bewilderment and the effect that the repeated police interviews and suspicions are having on her and her family, especially her children, are very well described. I loved the gradual piling on of evidence, the sensation of a noose tightening around Meg. I also liked the contrast between the mild-mannered housewife pottering around the garden and the resilient kickboxer with a passion for full contact sport. The courtroom scenes in the middle of the book slow down the action somewhat, but are nevertheless vivid and integral to the book. I hope I am not giving too much away when I say that, just as I was settling down to a (sort of) resolution with a sigh of relief, the action kicks off again. Nail-biting though this last part is, I remain a little unconvinced about the change of pace and style from the rest of the book. I also got a bit lost in the many names populating the police department, although two or three of the detectives were interesting enough to warrant a further outing.
However, these are minor quibbles in what was otherwise a solid effort by a first-time crime writer. If you want to try something a little bit different, something to get you wondering about the English justice system, this is a good place to start. I hope to see more of Linda Gruchy in the near future.
CFL Rating: 3 Stars