Written by AJ McCreanor — Riven is the assured debut of Glaswegian writer AJ McCreanor and the promising beginning of a new procedural series set in her home town. The novel begins with the gruesome discovery of a horribly brutalised corpse by two young lads, just out of school, attempting an opportunistic burglary. The victim, James Gilmore, was an educational psychologist who would visit schools in the city and provide counselling for children falling behind their peers. The boys who find him are not hardened criminals, and their fear of what they have discovered overrides their worry about being caught committing a crime, and they call the police.
So begins the investigation for DI Wheeler and Acting DI Ross. Though nominally of equal rank, Wheeler is clearly the senior in the partnership and she leads the case. Ross is younger and ambitious, and keen to achieve the rank permanently. The gruesome nature of the murder makes the case look personal – either a revenge attack or one family of gangsters sending a warning to another – but the investigation starts slowly and no early leads play out for our detectives. Gilmore has no criminal record, and no known association with any of the Glasgow underworld families.
His work record is unremarkable. There were no disciplinary investigations into his conduct or performance, and none of the teachers in the schools he visited knew him well or had expressed any concerns about him. His personal life was also apparently utterly ordinary. His only close relative is an elderly mother currently recovering from an operation, and he has no partner. Wheeler and Ross do discover one past girlfriend, but her relationship with the dead man was relatively brief and ended without rancour.
It is clear Wheeler and Ross will have to put in the hard yards to catch a break, but the case is complicated by the release from prison of a notorious hard man, Maurice Mason, and the pair are unsure where his loyalty sits in the ever-shifting fault lines of Glaswegian criminality. Wheeler’s attention is also taken up babysitting her young cousin who has moved up from south of the border to study at the city’s university. The lad is not keeping in touch with his mum, and Wheeler’s sister is constantly texting her to check up on him.
McCreanor juggles the main investigation with these various subplots adroitly. Some impact nicely with the main narrative thrust, and others help flesh out character or shed light into police work and life. The author is especially strong on characterisation and the relationship between her two leads, which falls just teasingly short of a will-they-won’t-they flirtation. I expect this is something which will develop further as the series progresses. Plotting is a little less strong, and the breakthrough in the case is rather gifted to the detectives, in a way which may well be true to life but lacks the drama of the best fiction. None the less, McCreanor leaves the book nicely placed on a knife edge, and I for one will be reading as the series progresses. A number of young British authors have breathed new life into the policier sub-genre, and fans of Eva Dolan and Luca Veste may well want to give Riven a chance.
CFL Rating: 4 Stars