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Bruce, Alison - 'The Siren'
Hardback: 336 pages (July 2010) Publisher: Constable ISBN: 1849010234

The second book about DC Gary Goodhew of the Cambridge police starts when a young woman's two-year-old son goes missing. Kimberly, the mother, is in some kind of trouble triggered by a TV news programme. This is something to do with her time spent working in a bar in Spain a few years ago and her hasty departure back to the UK after the disappearance of the manager Nick Lewton, son of the family who own the business. While Kimberly makes emergency plans, she leaves Riley, her son, with her neighbour and friend Rachel but Rachel's house is burnt down that same night.

Goodhew happens to be out for a drink with a mate on the evening in question, so has an early "in", spotting the teenage boy who initially phones the fire brigade and who seems to know more than he's letting on. Next morning, Goodhew is up early so goes to visit the burnt house only to find Kimberly there with her police "minder", new recruit Sue Gully. He tells her off for allowing Kimberly to visit the scene, on the grounds that the media may be around very soon. Gully is resentful and is soon spun a tale by Kincaide, Goodhew's rivalrous colleague, which makes her even less keen on Goodhew. Similar incidents of "office politics minutiae" occur, involving the superior officer DI Marks (who is surely going to turn out to have more than a professional interest in Goodhew, given his secret file on him and his avuncular indulgence to the younger man's tendency to rush off and investigate off his own bat) and Mel, the administrative officer who has various relationship problems. The balance of the novel is strangely skewed towards the emotional assumptions and misunderstandings of the team, compared with their professional tasks in attempting to find the lost boy.

Despite being technologically old-fashioned (information is faxed, printed out and delivered in an envelope rather than emailed to a mobile device), the police uncover the involvement of Kimberly and Rachel with a nightclub in Cambridge which is owned by the Lewton family the same people who employed the young women in Spain and whose son Nick mysteriously disappeared. Goodhew (mainly) begins to connect the dots between various crimes or "accidents", and the true nature of events becomes both apparent and extremely dangerous to several of the characters. The case would have been solved more quickly if the police had shared their information with each other more efficiently.

THE SIREN, which is about the police-car variety rather than the mermaid variety (I think!), is a good read. There is a moving subplot about a character who suffers from "locked-in" syndrome. Yet it is fairly obvious not only to the reader from the outset, but also to the police not much later, that Kimberly knows more than she's letting on, which removes a sense of suspense. It is also extraordinary that the police are so incurious about her behaviour given that a young child is missing. It is not that hard to guess what has happened to the boy, so the main interest of the novel has to be the personal dynamics of the police colleagues rather than the slightly vague procedural aspects (would Kimberly really be left unattended during a hospital stay for example? And when Goodhew and Gully uncover evidence pointing to two people who have vital information, why do they visit one of them and then return to the police station before visiting the other one, when clearly time is of the essence?). Matters become quite dramatic at the end of the novel, but although exciting, the rationale and actions of the criminal do not seem that credible to me.

Compared with the earlier novel, CAMBRIDGE BLUE, there is less about Goodhew's out-of-work life, though we do learn of a pivotal event in his relationship with his (now deceased) grandfather, and he is given a letter by his grandmother telling him that he's now in sole control of his inherited millions, but that he does not need to worry, the money is above board (!). Goodhew ignores anything to do with his personal fortune, though he owns the building opposite the police station in which he lives on the top floor. He has a telescope trained on his boss's office so he can see what DI Marks is up to whenever he wants Goodhew and Marks have a bizarre relationship!

Although Goodhew is a character in whom it is a bit hard to believe, he is coming more into focus in this novel and losing some of his Peter Wimsey-like features, which is all to the good. The author has not got the balance quite right yet between the procedural aspects and the personal problems of the police. Although several of the set-up mystery themes are left up in the air, the novel is definitely readable and the author on track for creating a very good series with lots of Cambridge local colour of the town, not gown, variety.

Read another review of THE SIREN.

Maxine Clarke, England
November 2010

Maxine blogs at Petrona.

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 11/09/2011 11:59