I have been reading Quintin Jardine’s Bob Skinner novels for so long now that I can’t remember a time when I didn’t know the crusty Edinburgh detective. I have seen him rise though the ranks to the position of Chief Constable of first Edinburgh and then Strathclyde, applauded him as he turned down the post of Head of the new Police Scotland force and then followed him into a retirement which still manages to bring him into contact with many of his old colleagues as well as exercising his remarkable skills of detection. This, his twenty-eighth outing, sees him in London paying what really amounts to a courtesy call on the great and good of the Labour Peers who want him to consider joining their ranks to whip their presence in the Lords into shape. It isn’t a role that Skinner wants but with almost uncharacteristic consideration he decides to at least meet with them and discuss the proposition. However, his morning is interrupted by a call from his old friend, Amanda Dennis, Head of the Security Service, asking him to join her immediately but without letting anyone realise where he is going and whom he is meeting. The exposition is over and the plot has begun.
Plot is what Jardine is best at. It may not always be entirely believable but it carries you along at such a pace that you rarely stop to question the likelihood of what is happening, even when that includes that assassination of Emily Repton, Tory Prime Minister of the day, by means of a letter opener forced four inches into her brain. Dennis has been called in because that very afternoon Repton was due to make an announcement on defence matters which would set not only the country back on its heels but the entire world and the very few of her colleagues who are in the know are frightened that there may have been a leak and deliberate sabotage by forces unknown. A report is given out that the Prime Minister is ill and Skinner has just forty-eight hours to discover who was behind the attack and bring them to justice.
But, what sort of justice? A crime has been committed and it has not been reported officially to the police, which is, in itself, a crime, a crime in this instance which is being supported by the head of the police, the Home Secretary himself. When Bob Skinner insists that he needs support if he is to do the job and goes on to demand the assistance of Neil McIlhenney, his erstwhile colleague and now a Commander in the Met, Neil, ever one of the more cautious members of Skinner’s team, is very uneasy. This, as far as he is concerned, is a job for the police, not the security forces. Nevertheless, he agrees to come on board and I for one cheered because I have missed McIlhenney’s clear thinking since his marriage took him south.
Well, the solution to Repton’s death is eventually discovered but it proves to be almost ancillary to the plotting going on in relation to the defence statement and this is where the story wanders off into realms that ask a lot of the reader’s powers to believe six impossible things before breakfast. I assume Skinner’s dislike of Tory politicians is an echo of his creator’s views, but while I am no apologist for right wing policies myself, I have to say that I found it difficult to give credit to what turn out to be the machinations at the heart of the novel. It is to the author’s benefit that the plot moves as fast as it does. The reader doesn’t have much time to think things though.
In addition events have not treated this book kindly. I would imagine that it was pretty much completed before this summer’s General Election was called. As a consequence the political scene has moved on a pace and certain of the comparisons that are inevitably going to be made between particular characters and real people don’t necessarily any longer ring true. This isn’t a novel to linger over in quiet contemplation but take it at a gallop and you’ll enjoy the ride.
With thanks to Headline who kindly made a copy of this book available.