What drives someone to commit murder? This has been a question raised in a number of crime novels I’ve read this year and it is certainly true of Perfect Death, the third in Helen Field’s Edinburgh based series featuring DI Luc Callanch and DCI Ava Turner. Luc is still finding it difficult to settle into the Edinburgh set-up having been forced out of his job with Interpol following a false accusation of rape. His gallic good looks don’t make the situation any easier and he remains the butt of DS Lively’s old school sense of humour. The MIT squad are brought together, however, by the unexpected suicide of their old chief, the now retired DCI Begbie. What on earth could have induced him to drive his car out to a solitary cliff edge, leave the engine running and feed a pipe in through the window? Visiting his grieving widow, Ava finds unexpected evidence which links back to a certain Louis Jones, an informant, who has himself disappeared in very suspicious circumstances.
While trying to uncover the mystery in her old Chief’s past, Ava is also under pressure to discover who has been responsible for the death of teenager Lily Eustis. Initially thought to be an accidental, if questionable, death, it becomes apparent that someone has fed her a high concentration of cannabis oil and left her die on a cold Edinburgh hillside. Detective Superintendent Overbeck (or Detective Superintendent Evil Overlord as DS Lively prefers to call her) is not impressed when Turner wants to turn the case into a full scale murder enquiry and even less pleased when it is suggested that a second death, that of charity worker Cordelia Muir, might have come about at the hand of the same killer. Serial killers play havoc with a force’s statistics and have a nasty habit of pushing up the overtime budget. It is DC Tripp (clearly marked for rapid and well deserved promotion) who makes the connection between the two cases and from that point the race is on to find out who the killer is before they are able to strike again.
I came across Helen Fields first DI Callanach novel early last year and was immediately drawn into the world that she has created. Her first two novels showed her to be excellent at both character and plot development; Perfect Death only confirms my initial impressions. Psychologically scarred by his experiences in France, Luc still finds it difficult to trust the people with whom he works and his obvious differences make it hard for his colleagues to settle with him. However, there is a realistic growth of mutual respect as he not only brings about resolutions to some seriously nasty crimes, but also shows that he is willing to put his own life on the line when necessary. Even Lively is prepared, by the end of this story, to go on the record with the opinion that he’s not a complete tosser. From Lively praise indeed. Fields also deals well with the difficulties faced by newly promoted DCI Turner, exploring the problems which a change in rank, responsibilities and subsequent relations with colleagues can bring.
In respect of the plot elements of the novel Fields judiciously seeds her tale with slight indications of which way the story is going to develop. Her choice of vocabulary is often very telling, for instance the use of a single word suggesting that a character who is apparently submissive is actually completely in control of the interaction in which they are involved. This is clever writing. There is no way that a reader can argue that they have been misled about someone, but equally they are going to have to read very carefully indeed to pick up on the clues that are dropped along the way.
Thematically, as I have indicated, the author is concerned with motive: what is it in a character’s past that compels them to behave as they do? She explores this not only in respect of the two criminal cases that are being pursued but also in regard to the relationship between Luc and the mother who seemingly abandoned him to his fate once the charge of rape was levelled against him. When she turns up in Edinburgh to try and explain herself to him Luc, not unexpectedly perhaps, wants nothing to do with her. However, what she subsequently reveals to him might well be seen as motive enough for her behaviour; I suspect that it will become a driving motive for Luc’s actions in future novels. A second developing theme is police corruption. It is the driving force behind the investigation into Begbie’s death and the disappearance of Louis Jones and the indication is that even when the known rotten apples have been dealt with, there is still another in the barrel who remains to surface at a later date. This is the second novel I have read this week which explores the less savoury elements to be found in modern policing. It is a useful plot device applied sparingly, used too often it could be seen an easy way out of a narrative hole of the writer’s own digging.
Helen Fields began strongly and has continued to improve with each successive novel. If you haven’t already discovered her work then I recommend going back to the beginning and starting with Perfect Remains. If you do know her previous novels then you will be pleased to know that Perfect Death is every bit as good as what has gone before, if not better.
With thanks to Avon Books and NetGalley for a review copy of this book.