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Cameron, David - 'The Ghost of Alice Fields'
Paperback: 172 pages (Feb. 2014) Publisher: Greenwich Exchange Ltd ISBN: 1906075816

Jude looked immediately across at the man whose academic title he would come to spit out with contempt. "Who was that lout?" Professor Popov mumbled as the dishevelled, smiling figure disappeared into the crowd.

Scotland, Edinburgh.
Alice Fields swaps her bus to school for a meeting in the park with a man fresh out of prison. They have sex in the bed of her adoptive parents of four years, Professor and Mrs Popov. Beneath a large crucifix they are observed by the unsmiling couple from their wedding photograph. Whilst poet Jude Oswald gives a reading in a damp church hall, contemplating both his poem and his broken marriage to Catherine, Professor Popov lectures his students on Western attitudes to the Balkans. Later, in the Popovs' bed, Alice gives a half-smile to a familiar face then dies from a single blow to the head.

Jude sits in the studio he shares with April, his childhood companion. He is supposed to be writing his weekly "Jackal" murder column for the Edinburgh Herald but gives up and walks up the path to April's tiny cottage which she shares with her two-year old son. Alice's body meanwhile is not discovered until the Popovs return home later that day. To the police it seems obvious what has happened, the sex-stained bed tells it all. They interview the Professor and his wife, paying close attention to the Professor. Meanwhile the Edinburgh Herald, having discovered that the Popovs are Serbian, prepares a piece on the recent bloody history of Serbia, insinuations at the forefront.

Next morning, after a night on the drink with his friend Alasdair, Jude craves milk. On the way back from the deli he spots TV cameras and a crowd on the pavement. It's the police reconstruction of Alice Field leaving her home. A man with a central European accent is haranguing a policewoman about the girl's hairstyle whilst his wife tries to mollify him. Jude is busy catching the eye of the "substitute Alice" who gives a small smile back.

From a tenement window, a man exposes himself to a young couple at the bus stop below. When the police arrive and push into his flat, past the knives and swords on the wall, they find the wall and ceiling of his bedroom covered in photos of schoolgirls. Alice is amongst them: "Bingo". But during the police interview, the suspect surprises them. He has more photographs of Alice, on the morning of her murder in the park being grabbed by a man with a sneering face...

Award winning poet David Cameron has said that his intention for THE GHOST OF ALICE FIELDS was "for there to be just as much suspense as there is in life, and no more unexpected twists than life might realistically throw up". This is a crime-writing challenge which implies a normality and neutrality that can go against the grain of what many readers may look for in a murder story. I am not sure that David Cameron, in this instance, has pulled it off. For me the end result is that the centre of the story is Jude Oswald himself: his writing, his emotional life, his drinking, and his impulses and impulsive behaviour. The crime is strangely distanced. Its victim is truly a "ghost" whose life, feelings and motives for her actions remain unexplored as in the main do those of the killer. Jude's suspicions are based on a gut reaction. His drunken decision to use his column to accuse his suspect of murder results in a mayhem that once again centres upon Jude rather than upon the crime and the criminal.

Cameron's writing is good. His language and imagery does what he says he wishes it to do, catching the incidences, coincidences and characters of everyday life. His imagery can be striking and powerful: the sense of place conjured by April's cottage under the Forth railway bridge; the passage of time measured by the sunlight moving across the dead body of Alice Fields in the bedroom of her parents' apartment. But ultimately I was disappointed by this tale of murder that promised much. It seems that the result of its writer's challenge to himself has been the side-lining of suspense and psychology in favour of his protagonist's life and viewpoint.

Lynn Harvey, England
October 2014

Lynn blogs at
Little Grey Doll.

More European crime fiction reviews can be found on the Reviews page.

last updated 26/10/2014 10:08