Forbes, Elena - 'Die With Me'
Detective Chief Inspector Clarke is in hospital after a serious motorcycle accident, so DI Mark Tartaglia has to take over the squad, just in time to be told of the death of a young girl in a fall at a local church. Initially considered to be a suicide, Tartaglia's suspicions, together with those of his (female) partner DS Sam Donovon, are aroused and a murder investigation begins. The police soon discover what the reader already knows: that the murderer is a "charmer" who targets depressed, suicidal young women, establishes a relationship with them via email, then pushes them, literally, to their deaths.
Most of the book is a police procedural, told from the point of view of the two main detectives as they gradually close in on the killer - helped by a couple of old and a couple of new deaths that provide more leads (not always to the killer). Tartaglia's life is romantically quite complicated: Sam is smitten with him but keeps her feelings secret; upmarket pathologist Fiona Blake has had a brief affair with him and is keen to continue it, but is inconveniently engaged to someone else; and before he can get stuck into his investigation properly, Tartaglia has a female superior officer, the angst-ridden Carolyn Steele, foisted on him while Clarke is out of action. He does not seem to have romantic leanings for her, but despite being portrayed as a "new man", he resents a woman being put in charge as he feels he could do the job better.
The best part of the book is the crime investigation. But there are too many aspects to the story and too many occasions where characters only interact with each other to move the plot forwards. As well as the investigation itself, the plethora of suspects, and the various relationship dynamics, there is a creepy profiler, a hypnotist, the boss in hospital, and Tartaglia's family pressures. None of these themes is explored in sufficient depth to grip, and by the time the criminal is finally identified I felt the book had slipped somewhat into cliche, particularly at the end, where the previously sensible Donovon's behaviour seems very out of character. The villain is pure cardboard: he could be one of several of the suspects, and when he's identified there is nothing that makes him stand out from the others. The climax of the book is straight out of crime fiction 101, complete with WIP (woman in peril) and HDNB (hero rushing in to danger without backup).
This having been said, some of the earlier vignettes are quite moving, for example the lonely au pair and the man sacked from his school for falling in love with a teenage pupil. Although I found the book overall slightly dull, the plot is competent if predictable, the London scenes atmospheric, and Tartaglia is a sympathetic protagonist who could develop nicely in future. However, I do hope that Elena Forbes ignores her own last-page hint and ditches her colourless villain for her next book.
Read another review of DIE WITH ME.
Maxine Clarke, England