Author MJ Arlidge throws just about every modern crime-writer’s cliché into the mix for this first book in the contemporary Britcrime series featuring DI Helen Grace. And he (maybe she, although I doubt it) demonstrates considerable skill in pushing those buttons at just the right moments to create a rattling read – albeit one which occasionally veers into the land of implausible coincidence and by-the-numbers characterisation.
Meet Helen herself: hard-edged detective, definitely not in touch with her feminine side. Teetotal, no kids, workaholic; a rising star in the Southampton force with some hidden kinks in the cupboard which she unleashes in regular sessions with a professional S&M practitioner. Enter a serial killer with a brilliantly gripping motif: imprison two people and tell them one has to kill the other so that one can survive. Chuck in all the other aspects of a modern police procedural: a talented office driven distraught by domestic dispute, who’s lost custody of the kids and crawls inside a bottle to escape. A shrill reporter for the local press, giving everyone a hard time and attacking the detectives when they can’t stop the body count rising. A corrupt officer, leaking info. The senior police commander, demanding results, making threats. A central character with a deep, dark secret at her core. All the usual.
Yet it’s very neatly balanced, with the story being told from multiple viewpoints, in short chapters which rattle along. The author adds plenty of credible detail about the area around Southampton and the derelict sites where the murders occur. Flashbacks have you wondering about whose story is being revealed. And there’s enough tension and drama in the plot and pacing to keep the pages flying by. So it was good enough for me to suspend disbelief during the less credible moments… and to not balk too much at the notion that every strong successful woman is some kind of warped, wounded victim at heart. (And if in later books Helen Grace continues to ride a motorcycle, then I hope someone gives the author a bit more detail on how that actually works. You rarely jab the brakes, for instance, nor do motorcyclists typically ‘bike’ anywhere…)
From its title, to the choice of protagonist, to the opening chapters – part insidious psychological torment, part salacious kinky titillation – it’s obvious that MJ Arlidge has aimed this at the mainstream of crime fiction. We’re deep in Patterson territory. It’s slick, well produced, engaging and entertaining. Not much new, and a few dubious moments of crass characterisation, but it’s as consumable as an episode of CSI or Luther.
So while I wasn’t impressed enough to immediately one-click the next book in the Helen Grace series, if I see it on a special offer then I wouldn’t kick it off my kindle on a cold winter weekend.
Reviewed by Rowena Hoseason
Eeny Meeny and its sequels are available in print and ebook formats