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Saturday, September 28, 2013

Stop Dead. Leigh Russell. No Exit Press (2013)

An engaging and enjoyable crime story, with a wide ranging cast and thoughtful plot mechanics. A businessman is found murdered and his wife and her lover are the natural suspects. When the victim's business partner is killed in the same way, followed by another murder the case becomes more complicated. The set up is well done, the investigation is thoughtful, the threads of the situation are carefully picked up and the reveals cleverly staged as the deep and bloody roots of the crimes start to become exposed.
One of the striking and enjoyable aspects to this story is the way that Leigh Russell uses minor cast members to introduce the murders and then lets the major cast players take over. She invests enough time and detail in the the walk on parts that the situation they find themselves in feels as disruptive and horrifying as it should, they respond in interesting and credible ways to the shock they receive and this solves a problem in a police procedural. How do you convey the shock of  a murderous assault or finding a murder victim if the cast encounter them as part of their professional lives? Having civilians, who have been given an opportunity to register with the reader first, be the finders gives the scope of the event more weight and depth. The professionals take over and move the case on, the impact of the event has already been established.
The lead investigator Detective Inspector Geraldine Steel, newly transferred to London from Kent, is an attractive lead character. Capable and competent, she leads the investigation with professional care while suffering from a credible dislocation from her transfer.
The supporting cast are well developed with one interesting exception. One of the cast is given a set up that does not play out, it feels like a road not taken. It does not harm the story,  it is a major enough set up that the absence of any follow through is curious. The significant sub plot involving the wife of the first victim and her lover is very nicely done, the stress of the events and the impact of the investigation is well developed. It gives more force to the whole story by capturing the fallout from the events that they find themselves caught up in and reacting to.
The plot is clever, it unfolds carefully and the shifts and twists that never give a sense of being forced in to solve a narrative problem. They emerge naturally and the pacing means that they are very well set. The tone is low key and restrained, this allows the action to stand out when it needs to. Leigh Russell has a gift for quick and effective charachterisation and smart plots, good fun.

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