Fans of the police procedural should add the name of JK Flynn to their TBR list as an author to watch out for. Flynn’s debut, The Art Merchant, introduced us to DS Esther Penman, who is based in the fictional English town of Belfield and a woman with more than her fair share of troubles.
First there’s the recent death of her mother, and as Vengeance opens Penman is on compassionate leave. But it’s the last thing she wants – moping about isn’t her style and just a couple of days after the funeral we find her turning up in court to keep an eye on Peter Darren, a local drugs kingpin who she’s finally got bang to rights. Or has she? Because as the Crown Prosecution Service begin their customary ducking and weaving, Penman has visions of her carefully constructed case going down the toilet.
Which makes the discovery of a man’s body in a dumpster all the more appealing to Penman, who would do anything to stop herself being sidelined. It’ll take her mind off her mum, Darren, the pesky CPS and all manner of other issues crowding the DS’s brain. The victim is Carlton Riddell, who was a high-flying sales exec with a locally based pharmaceuticals firm that has been making international headlines with the imminent release of a new wonder drug, the details of which are a closely-guarded secret. Just what was he doing meeting a shadowy figure in an anonymous hotel just hours before his demise?
It’s looking like a case of industrial espionage, until Penman joins the dots to the recent disappearance of a London stockbroker called Gary Hetherington. He and Riddell were mates at school – but what on earth could be the connection between the two cases?
Vengeance is a book that tackles bereavement, sexual harassment, friendship, family ties and, you’ve guessed it, revenge, with Flynn deftly weaving themes and narrative threads to create a thoroughly engaging story. The police procedural angle is cleverly constructed, but there’s also a vein of psychological thriller running through this book. This author’s style reminds me of Sarah Hilary and Carol Wyer – two crime writers who certainly know how to construct a strong female protagonist, and Esther Penman is a welcome addition to the ranks of the troubled copper.
Back in Belfield, Penman is worried that she’s being followed. Just who was the figure watching from the shadows when she visited her mother’s grave? And how can she put a spoke in the wheels of her new boss, who is paying her way too much attention and seems unable to take no for an answer? But as the case at hand gathers momentum, she has no time to ponder, because — like so many fictional cops before her – this is a police officer who will always put her work first.
Modern day police work has so many technological advances to help it along the way, but there’s still plenty of room for good old fashioned copper’s nouse and leg work and it is fascinating to watch Penman and her colleagues sniff out the evidence and begin to piece together the big picture. There’s a balancing act between keeping the main narrative flowing and adding in the side shoots that give the story depth and interest, and Flynn shows some skill in keeping all of the balls in the air for top notch reader engagement.
Vengeance has plenty to offer for a crime fiction fan in search of new blood – and although it is book two in a series, it can be happily read as a standalone. If you’re starting to assemble a reading pile for when the nights start drawing in, this is one that merits inclusion.
Head to the Big Island of Hawai`i for Retribution, Robert McCaw’s latest police procedural, reviewed here.
CFL Rating: 4 Stars