I picked this book up at random during last year’s crime festival so that I had a book I could get signed. I chose it mainly because it wasn’t a Tony Hill novel and I think I’ve read most of those, plus it was based in Oxford and I’d spent a bit of the year working there so it was interesting to read about a place I’d visited.
I’m a big fan of Val McDermid books, and whilst I don’t think this was her best it was certainly a compelling read. The story focuses on Charlie Flint who was a psychiatrist but when a profile she did lead to a man being released and committing further crimes she is suspended. Bored and wanting to prove she is still good at her job she is sent a package which shows details of a murder at an Oxford wedding involving her old tutor. Charlie decides to visit Oxford and ends up being asked to investigate her old tutor’s daughter’s husband’s murder, which she blames her daughter’s new lover for. Charlie is happy to visit Oxford as despite being apparently happy with her partner Maria, she is thinking about having an affair with Lisa.
It all sounds very complicated and to be fair it does get a bit confusing keeping track of all the different women who seem to be interlinked but the story itself is, as to be expected, well written and draws you in to the murky world of Oxford Universities. I can’t say I particularly warmed to any of the characters. Charlie seemed incredibly selfish and self absorbed. The main suspect for the murder was Jay, who comes across as very cold and manipulating. One bit I did like was the way Jay’s background is explored as she writes another ‘misery’ memoir which is set against Charlie’s investigations into the same incidents, which I found an interesting trick.
I think it’s always difficult to read a book like this which is essentially a standalone novel, if you have enjoyed the writers main series. For fans of Tony Hill and the Kate Brannigan expecting more of the same then this may be a disappointment as its lacks the graphic punch that her previous novels have. However if it’s taken purely on a standalone merit then I think it is good. The perpetrator is relatively easy to guess (although I suspect that’s more to do with the amount of books I read which makes plot devices easier to spot rather than it being a problem with the story) and bits of the story seem a little far fetched, but then its fiction and that’s kind of the point!
If someone has never read a Val McDermid book then I wouldn’t say this is a good point to start, however if someone likes their mysteries to be more character lead than crime riddled, it’s worth a read.