Two years ago I reviewed Long Way Home, Eva Dolan’s first novel featuring DI Zigic and DS Ferreira of the Peterborough Hate Crime Department, and heaped on it the praise I felt it so justly deserved. The only concern that I voiced was whether or not it would be possible to ring the changes sufficiently given that the motive behind the crimes that they encountered was likely to be similar in each case. I need not have worried. Long Way Home tackled the exploitation of immigrant labour. Since then we have had Tell No Tales, which dealt with issues to do with right wing extremism and now, at least initially, it seems that behind the murder currently under investigation may lie prejudice against those who are disabled. It is, to say the least, disturbing to realise just how wide the brief is of those who investigate Hate Crimes.
After You Die occurs some months after the conclusion to the enquiry detailed in Tell No Tales and Mel Ferreira is now back at work after the horrific injuries she suffered in the course of that investigation. Inevitably matters have been let slip while she has been recovering and so when the first news comes in of the death of Dawn Prentice and her disabled daughter, Holly, Mel’s immediate response is to question whether or not she is at fault. The previous summer Dawn had made a number of complaints about harassment she and Holly were suffering as a result of Holly’s recent paralysis. Although they were followed up at the time, Ferreira now wonders if she shouldn’t have pursued the issue further, even though the complaints tailed off. But, as the investigation progresses, it begins to look as though the focus of the attack has in fact been Dawn and that whoever killed her assumed that Holly would be found while she was still alive. Attention shifts to those who might have wished the woman harm, including her ex-husband and a number of men she has met through internet dating sites.
There is also, however, the question of why eleven year old Nathan, the foster child of Dawn’s friend Julia, has suddenly taken off into the blue. He was a frequent visitor at the house. Has he seen something that has scared him? Why is no one willing to talk about his background? Is it possible that Nathan himself committed the crime? DI Zigic finds himself blocked at every turn as he tries to discover what it is about the youngster’s history that makes those who should be supporting the investigation refuse to co-operate.
There are several issues currently in the public eye raised in the course of this novel. There have been a number of cases in the news recently where the police have not followed up on reports of harassment and as a result the complainants have been terribly injured or even killed. The question of the evil that is internet trolling is also explored. Ultimately, however, it seems to me that what this book is really concerned with is the vulnerability of children, both physically and psychologically, and the terrible damage that can be done to them, deliberately or otherwise, by those adults who are careless of their well-being. Children proliferate in this story. There are Zigic’s two boys as well as his unborn daughter. In addition to Nathan, Julia fosters a second child, Caitlin, and is pregnant herself. Then there is, of course, Holly, and also Benjamin, the son of the woman her father is now living with. Not all of these children are innocents, but for the most part those who prove to be capable of acts of violence have been shaped by the adults they have encountered earlier in their lives. Our children become the people that we help them grow into and if the significant adults in their lives (including those in authority who should take lasting care of them) abuse them either physically or through neglect, we have to recognise that there will be consequences.
This is a very accomplished novel. I knew when I first encountered Eva Dolan that I would want to read whatever she wrote next and subsequent books have only reinforced that opinion. Her characterisation has always been strong. What is noticeably developing is her ability to offer a plot with clear lines of development and a strong underlying theme. I very much look forward to the next novel in the series.
(With thanks to Random House UK, Vintage Publishing, Harvill Secker who made this available for review.)