Roberts, Jenny - 'Dead Reckoning'
Cameron McGill's a York-based private investigator who steers clear of domestics. But she ends up breaking this rule when her friend Beano passes a client on to her. It looks straightforward -- finds out what Elaine Wilson's husband is up to. But before long there's a dead body in a Manchester alleyway.
Cameron's not much enamoured of Elaine, but agrees to follow her husband Charles. Next thing is, he's dressed in women's clothes and lying dead on a Manchester street. The search for the killer takes Cameron into Manchester's cross-dressing community, as she tries to track down the mysterious Aunt Emily. And naturally there's a femme fatale in the shape of the gorgeous Lin to act as a distraction.
I've always been a touch grumpy about the private investigator side of the genre being transported to the UK. For whatever reason, it never seems quite convincing. Much as I admire John Baker's writing, I could never quite buy the quirky supporting cast. Sarah Dunant's Hannah Wolfe series felt like an intellectual exercise, whilst the least said about Val McDermid's Kate Brannigan and her dozy pot-smoking boyfriend the better!
But DEAD RECKONING works, and I'm off to find the previous two in the series (NEEDLE POINT and BREAKING POINT). Whereas McDermid's Manchester felt like a studious attempt to cash in on the 1990s 'Madchester' phase, Roberts's city feels realistic as it moves from the gay village to big business to suburbia.
Roberts is a first-rate plotter, and the book's 400 pages zip past in an instant. And Cameron's an attractive and well-balanced heroine surrounded by a believable and well-drawn supporting cast, including Beano (who has her own problems to solve), Lin's enigmatic grandfather Mr Lee, and the unpleasant and spoiled Elaine.
The sad thing about this outstanding book, though, is that it is unlikely to reach a wide audience, published as it is by a small-scale gay publishers. And that's infuriating, as Roberts' writing is up there with the best on the UK crime writing scene.
Sharon Wheeler, England