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James, Christina - 'In the Family'
Paperback: 352 pages (Nov. 2012) Publisher: Salt Publishing ISBN: 190777324X

The story begins on a bitterly cold sliproad leading onto the A1 in rural Lincolnshire. An argumentative group of young workmen stumble across a body that has lain in a shallow grave for thirty years.

The case is picked up by the small team led by Tim Yates, an aggressively everyman Detective Inspector with the South Lincolnshire police.

"Yates considered himself to be an ordinary man, of average intelligence for a graduate. He was also happy, and comfortable with himself. He had no hang-ups about his middle-class upbringing, excellent education, sexual proclivities, or even his red hair. He was proud of his job, and saw no reason to apologise for it."

Once the body has been identified as Kathryn Sheppard, a young woman who vanished without trace many years earlier, Yates's team rapidly establishes links to one of the country's most notorious murderers. Dorothy Atkins killed her mother-in-law Doris in cold blood and has never revealed her motives. Psychologists are deeply divided over the question of her sanity. Dorothy now lives in an old people's home, where she succeeds in quietly making everyone's life a misery.

Dorothy was the mother of Hedley Atkins, who had been one of Kathryn Sheppard's two boyfriends.

Yates cannot believe that two murders linked to the Atkins family are unrelated and begins looking into both cases simultaneously. The investigative chapters led by Yates and his painstaking right-hand woman Juliet Armstrong are woven in with other narratives, mainly that of Hedley. Hedley is now a drab man in his 50s, a cat owner and long-time loner who has finally agreed to share his life with someone else - his lover Peter.

"I feel guilty about Elspeth. She's my cat. She's fifteen, and not used to strangers."

Peter, a snobbish and furiously camp lowlife with designs on his mother's inheritance, rapidly evolves into one of the more memorably unpleasant characters in a story well stocked with the malicious. His influence on the more gentle and slow-moving Hedley cannot turn out well. Meanwhile, we learn more about the dysfunctional Atkins family and get closer to the truth at the heart of the story.

The slow-reveal of the Atkins' history is reminiscent of Ruth Rendell/Barbara Vine, forming a counterpoint to the brisk detective work of the police. The two stories - and two styles - are successfully brought together in the final chapters.

IN THE FAMILY launches the career of Inspector Tim Yates; a second novel, ALMOST LOVE, is also available.

Rich Westwood, England
March 2014

Rich blogs at
Past Offences.

Details of the author's other books with links to reviews can be found on the Books page.
More European crime fiction reviews can be found on the Reviews page.

last updated 25/04/2014 15:27