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When a young girl, Chattie Cornfeld, is found murdered in a London park, Inspector Bill Slider and his colleagues initially think that she is the victim of the 'Park Killer', a serial murderer still at large. However, when Slider begins his investigation, he realises that the MO doesn't fit in with that of the 'Park Killer' and there are a lot of things in Chattie's life that don't quite make sense. For example, she runs her own business, but lives way beyond her means - is drug smuggling her source of extra income? And although everyone professes to like her, she still ended up dead. And there are countless men that seem to count themselves as her lover. Can Slider and his team work out the truth? Was Chattie murdered by the 'Park Killer' or is there someone else at large guilty of murder?
Not having heard of Cynthia Harrod-Eagles (and let's face it, it's not a name that anyone could forget in a hurry!), I wasn't quite sure what to expect of this book. I have since found out that the author also writes romances, which would have put me off - I tend to find that romance and murder don't mix too well! However, I'm glad I perservered with this book. Although it isn't best-seller material, it is a good solid piece of crime fiction and helped me while away a few hours very pleasantly.
I do get a little bored of fictional detectives; having read so much crime fiction, it takes a lot to impress me. Bill Slider isn't particularly impressive. He is in a strong relationship with Joanna, who is expecting his child and he doesn't drink much - so at least he isn't in that mould of miserable, cynical, drunken police officers that seem to be so popular. However, there is something a little smug about him and, although he gets on well with his colleagues, he is a bit too patronising for my liking. He reminds me very much of Quintin Jardine's Bob Skinner, another fictional detective I have never liked. Luckily, the rest of the book is strong enough to override my slight irritation at some of the things that Slider says and does.
His side-kick, Atherton, could also be exceptionally annoying, but thankfully, he doesn't feature too much in the book. He thinks he is God's gift, which is not an attribute I particularly dislike. Luckily, he does have a bit of a comeuppance in this story, so perhaps in later series, he will be a little more humble. Another colleague, Josie Hart, a West Indian woman, is much more appealing and as she becomes a permanent member of Slider's team in this book, I look forward to reading more about her in future books. She has a way of sorting out Atherton that I really liked and sense that there may be a relationship developing between them.
The way that Harrod-Eagles tells the story is very effective, if not particularly original. It is told from the perspective of the main characters in the book - Slider and Atherton - and we find out the bits and pieces of evidence through their eyes. The background to Chattie's life is built up very well - she starts out as the girl that everyone loves, but through interviews with people who knew it, it soon becomes apparent that she had a side to her that no-one knew very much about. The author doesn't fall into the trap of making it seem that Chattie deserves her fate though - she is always the victim in the story.
The ending could have been better and it is perhaps this that makes the book just that little bit too ordinary. It is a perfectly competent ending and all the ends are tied up neatly, but there is no 'wow' factor, which could have made it as compelling as some of the better known authors out there. Having said that, I do think the author deserves to be better known than she apparently is. I have certainly had my appetite whetted enough to want to read more in the Bill Slider series.
Overall, reading this book was a very pleasant way of spending a few hours and I can recommend it to anyone that likes a good murder mystery. The pluses certainly outweigh the minuses by a long way. Four stars from me.
The book is available from play.com for £5.49. Published by the Little Brown Book Group, it has 352 pages. ISBN: 9780751534283.
Chattie Cornfeld was murdered while jogging in the park. She ran her own small marketing company and lived comfortably, perhaps too comfortably for her income. At first it looked as though she was the latest victim of the 'Park Killer', but it doesn't take Slider and Atherton long to establish that someone was trying to pass the killing off as part of a pattern: only the pattern doesn't fit, this one was personal. Chattie was popular with all who crossed her path, and it was difficult to imagine she had gained any enemies. Turning to the two most popular motives for murder - money and passion - Slider and his team's investigation turn up some puzzling anomalies in her life, not least the number of men who counted themselves as her lover and the tangled relationships of her family. But none of the suspects can be made to fit what evidence they have, unless of course they've been mis-reading the evidence ...