The idea of extra-sensory detectives has been successfully explored by several authors – check out Kay Hooper’s SCU series, Spencer Kope’s Special Tracking Unit, or Nik Morton’s psychic spy Tana Standish. The uber-abilities of the investigator are usually employed within a special psy-cop unit, but with The Colours Of Death author Patricia Marques takes a notably different approach.
In this unusual combination of a police procedural and alternate reality, the action is set in a contemporary Portugal – in a society not unlike ours, but one where a small proportion of the population are ‘Gifted’, either with telepathy or telekinesis. This scenario mixes the allure of traditional EuroCrime – a foreign but faintly familiar location – with the sinister overtones of an oppressed minority.
The Gifted are rigidly controlled; identified in childhood; tested, quantified and scrutinised for life. Inspector Isabel Reis is one such telepath, shunned by her own family and struggling to understand the changes going on with her Gift. She’s been self-medicating with unlicensed drugs to keep her rapidly evolving abilities under wraps. She’s a diligent and effective police officer who should be able to use her Gift to enhance her investigative aptitude… but frequently it does more harm than good at the moment.
In this unstable situation, where the vast majority of the population distrust and avoid their Gifted counterparts, the last thing anyone needs is a vicious murder in public – one which directly indicates a Gifted killer. In her investigation, Reis must confront prejudice, fear and outright hostility – and come to terms with her painful personal history and an equally uncertain future.
While this is an interesting concept, it’s far from original; see the opening paragraph for just a few examples. Honestly, I’m amazed by how many big-name authors wrote blurbs for how ‘breathtakingly original’ this is. Perhaps they don’t get out much?
The author’s writing wasn’t sharp enough to give a real edge to proceedings. Nor did her version of Lisbon feel particularly authentic or exotic; it felt lightly-sketched as if penned after a weekend’s city break rather than imbued with lifelong experience of the society.
Equally, Isabel Reis isn’t an easy protagonist to latch on to. Much of the book is devoted to her insecurity and emotional instability, and there are a fair few irrelevant detours which slow the pace and do little to enhance the character. The whole ‘societal prejudice against a minority’ felt a lot like jumping on the latest ‘lives matter’ bandwagon – with the Gifts being used as a very thin metaphor for race, sexuality or gender discrimination.
The most interesting aspects of the larger story are left dangling at the end, no doubt to entice us to pick up the next book which will inevitably roll along next year, but I doubt it’ll tempt me. An unexceptional police procedural, mildly spiced by the psychic side of things.
Reviewed by Rowena Hoseason
The Colours Of Death by Patricia Marques is available at Amazon
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