This concise compilation of four short stories showcases the talents of British author Wendy Cartmell who has more than a dozen crime-thrillers to her credit. Most of Cartmell’s books feature her military police investigator, Sgt Major Crane, and he takes centre stage in this collection. Crane is a middle aged, experienced army veteran who’s served in Afghanistan and now investigates murders and mysteries which affect the British military. We also meet his sidekick, the boyishly fit Billy, when they’re summoned to a fatal fire at Aldershot garrison, where a military man has died in a suspicious blaze. As an MP with authority over criminal/military cases, Crane has the endearing habit of effectively giving his senior officers orders…
Cartmell draws on her personal experience as the wife of a forces veteran to bring plenty of gritty authenticity to the scenario and military procedures. ‘No Mercy’ incorporates a satisfying level of detailed observation at the burned wreck of a crime scene, where an agonised death occurred, together with convincingly gruesome medical notes from the pathology report. The author employs a straightforward, no-nonsense writing style which signals exactly where the story is going in forthright fashion. There’s not much nuance or subtle suggestion in this quick thriller, but instead she quite tells it bluntly like it is.
‘No Mercy’ is an intriguing little mystery which shows Crane methodically following the evidence, interviewing suspects, solving an entirely different case along the way. It relies a little too heavily on the ‘perp reveals all under questioning’ plot device to explain what happened and wrap up the loose ends, but overall offered up a plausible plot and an engaging protagonist. Tom Crane could certainly grow on me…
The other three stories in this anthology are stand-along shorts which I enjoyed just as much. ‘What If?’ is a playful skit on how to commit suburban domestic murder, get away with it, and even tell people exactly what you’ve done. ‘Another Satisfactory Day’ explores the morals of a ruthless corporate salesman who receives his righteous come-uppance. ‘The Telephone Call’ sets up a standard criminal scenario – a blackmail demand, a ransom drop-off, the victim sent scurrying from one telephone box to the next – and then deftly subverts it with a tricksy twist in the tale.
The final 40% of the book is an excerpt from the full-length Sgt Major Crane novel ‘Steps to Heaven’. If you find yourself grabbed by the narrative then there’s a link to a free download. Even if you choose not to immediately read another Crane case, this collection offers an enjoyable afternoon’s criminal activity in its own right.
Reviewed by Rowena Hoseason
No Mercy by Wendy Cartmell is available as an ebook, often free to download
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