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Walker, Sue - 'The Dead Pool'
Paperback: 304 pages (Oct. 2007) Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd ISBN: 0141025670

This is Sue Walker's third novel, all of which are set in and around Edinburgh. This one involves a woman, Kirsten Rutherford, who returns to Edinburgh after the death of her father-in-law, Jamie. Jamie had drowned in the Water of Leith, in a deep pool from which the novel takes its name. Kirsten feels she owes it to Jamie to find out how he died, as no-one seems to be quite sure if it was an accident, suicide or something more sinister.

There is one person though who could shed light on the event. Morag Ramsey was accused of murdering her boyfriend and his lover at the same spot just a few months before Jamie died. But Morag, now released from prison due to lack of evidence, is a fragile and unstable witness and the group of friends she was with that day are a self-centred and unappealing lot. Kirsten becomes more and more suspicious of everyone involved with her father-in-law the deeper she gets into the case.

This is a competently plotted and executed novel. The sense of place is excellent with the dark menacing flow of the Water of Leith running through the whole novel. My main problem was that I just didn't really care about any of the characters. With the exception of Kirsten, who is just a little bland, the characters in this book are a nasty, self-absorbed, uninteresting bunch. I just didn't want to spend time with them. Fair play to Sue Walker for keeping me reading all the way to the end, but it was tough going in places. I actually hadn't figured out the ending, but it didn't come as a great surprise either.

Also I just wasn't convinced that Kirsten had any grounds for suspecting foul play in the first place. Of course this is a crime novel, so she was obviously going to be right, but had it been real life, would anyone really go to those lengths on such flimsy evidence? Sure, her father-in-law knew the river like the back of his hand, but he was out walking in bad conditions while the river was in spate, so it could quite plausibly have been an accident.

Basically, I guess what I'm saying is that while this was a fair read - atmospheric, efficiently plotted - I wasn't convinced by the initial premise, unenthused by the characters and ultimately found it a bit disappointing. It was good but not great, competent but not inspiring. There's a lot of mediocre crime fiction out there and while this was by no means the worst I've read recently, neither was it the best. To rise above the rest a book needs to be better than this. I expect more.

Pat Austin, England
December 2007

last updated 9/12/2007 20:58