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Sunday, July 26, 2015

Eeny Meeny. M.J.Arlidge, Penguin Books (2014)

A very engaging crime story with strong plot mechanics that slightly overshadow the cast. A couple are kidnapped, held without food or water and given a choice, one must kill the other to gain their freedom. The survivor is released and tells the story to the police. Detective Inspector Helen Grace heads up the investigation into the incident and finds the circumstances a little to fanciful to be true, until it happens again. The body count rises as the investigation struggles to find the killer. The reveals are very well staged, the action is sharp and brutal and the conclusion as brutal as the required.
There is a very large cast in the story, a lot of whom die horribly. M.J. Arlidge gives the space to the victims as much as the investigation so that the full weight of the terror and despair felt by the victims is clear. The survivors are given space after the event so that the further consequences are revealed. This gives the investigation a forceful context and adds greatly to the pressure that they are operating under.
DI Helen Grace is a great character, she is is driven, competent and fiercely focused. It is these strengths that also prove to be weaknesses as she makes a credible mistake and has to deal with the consequences. All of the cast, with one exception, are given the space and time to strongly come forward and engage the reader. When they become caught in the coils of the plot their situation has weight and impact as they are established with the reader before the hammer falls on them.
The problem with the story is that there is too much plot, it overwhelms the cast and finally is a little exhausting. The gears of the plot mechanics are very well put together, the investigation has problems cleverly set up and the murder plot is savagely effective, there is a problem with the villain. To achieve what they do would require essentially superhuman planning skills and significant resources. Up to a certain point I was very willing to go with the flow of the story, then overload arrived and I was just uncomfortable with the sheer scale of the crimes. The why was very satisfactory, it was the extended range of how that frayed the story a bit. To cram in that much plot the cast had to be pushed a little aside and that left the plot mechanics a bit too exposed. Events occurred that appear to be just plot mechanics because plot mechanics were wanted, the purpose to the events was not  strongly enough linked. The problems that beset the investigation are much more tightly and ultimately, effectively, managed. That shorter space creates a greater impact.
M. J. Arlidge uses short chapters to great effect, they add to the momentum of reading the book and allow for frequent changes of scene which keeps the readers attention fresh and moving. A very solid story that would have benefited from being somewhat more compressed.

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