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Once again, reporter Laura Ackroyd and her boyfriend, DCI Michael Thackeray, become involved in cases that seem to be impossible to solve. Laura has become involved with a married woman, Julie, who has recently left her husband because she can no longer cope with the beating he gives her on a regular basis. But then her daughter runs back to her father and subsequently disappears, leaving Julie is terrified for her safety. Thackeray is horrified to find that the dead Asian woman found in the river is one of his constable's relations. However, being Asian, the family are reluctant to open up and Thackeray and his team are forced to tread on egg-shells around them, although they are sure that the family knows more than they are saying. Will either case have a happy ending?
The idea of a reporter/police officer combination isn't exactly a new thing. Nevertheless, the Ackroyd/Thackeray combinations is entertaining, mainly because they clash so often. Thackeray, for example, becomes involved in Julie's domestic violence case, but Laura is furious because he doesn't seem to take it as seriously as he should; nor does he do a great deal about it, his hands being tied by the lack of any concrete evidence of wrong-doing on the husband's part. This makes for some interesting and unpleasant conversations, and at times it seems as though the two are so much at odds that it is going to bring about the end of their relationship.
There is another issue between Laura and Thackeray that has now been on-going for several books. Laura wants children; Thackeray's son died a few years before and he is reluctant to take the plunge again. This has now been dragged out for long enough. In at least three of the recent books I've read, the pattern is the same - Laura brings up the subject of children, Thackeray avoids the subject, it seems as if they are about to split up and then the ending is left hanging. I'm really a bit bored of it all. They need to either split up or get on with it and have children.
The series is set in the apparently fictional town of Bradfield, but it is very obvious from the outset that it is really Bradford. I'm not exactly sure why the author doesn't just set it in Bradford - possibly it is for legal reasons, or it may be that she wanted the artistic licence to change the names of streets and housing estates. However, the advantage of setting it in such a multicultural place is that racial issues become an important aspect - in this case, it is the pressure put on Asian women to marry men that their fathers recommend, and their plight when the marriage is an unhappy one. The officer related to the dead woman has shut himself away from his parents and their faith, which has left him very exposed and lonely. I don't know how much of this is based on research and how much is made up, but it does seem incredibly convincing and I found it very interesting.
The issue of domestic violence is also a fascinating one. The idea that a woman can be so willing to stay with a man who beats her (or, of course, the other way around) is thankfully alien to most of us; however, reading Julie's story makes one realise just how easy it is to find oneself in such a position. Again, the author has dealt with the issue very well, making everything seem sadly very convincing and believable. I just hope her predicament happens to as few women as possible. Shelters for sufferers of domestic violence are out there; it's just they don't seem as well publicised as perhaps they should be.
Patricia Hall's style of writing is, as expected, very plain and simple, which is perfect for the genre that she is writing. When reading crime fiction, it is the story which is important to me and I don't want it bogged down with too much description and long words. That isn't to say it reads like a twelve year old's, but it is very much in the style of a tabloid newspaper - probably not surprising as the author, real name Maureen O'Connor, is or was a journalist. That probably gives her an insight into the world of crime that most authors don't have.
There isn't that much to criticise about the story, apart from the boring will they/won't they have children thread, which is really driving me mad now. However, nor is it the most memorable of stories. It is probably one of Patricia Hall's better ones, probably because of the insight into domestic violence and immigrants, but it still isn't a story that I will ponder on and remember for years to come.
On the whole, if you enjoy crime fiction, whether you've read any of the previous Ackroyd/Thackeray books in the series, you'll probably find this enjoyable as a light read - it really isn't all that taxing. And, although reading the series in order is a good idea from the point of character development, it really doesn't matter if you decide to start here - the couple's story is easy enough to pick up. Recommended; just don't have overly high expectations and you should enjoy it.
The book is available from play.com for £5.99. Published by Allison & Busby, it has 304 pages. ISBN: 9780749007751
This review was originally published on thebookbag.co.uk and was written by me.