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There is a delicate balance that needs to be made when writing a series of crime novels. As an author sets out on their debut they look at the likes of Ian Rankin's Rebus series and hope to one day make as good a success. Rebus succeeds by having an in-depth and interesting central character, but also some great storylines. Therefore, any new author must balance character development with story. With too little character development a reader may not want to come back for more books, but is there a situation where the character can have too much involvement? At what point does a book stop being about crime and instead about relationships? I think David Lawrence's 'Nothing like the Night' is beyond the tipping point.
Detective Superintendent Stella Mooney returns in 'Nothing like the Night' as she helps investigate the death of a young woman. When two more women are similarly viscously attacked it seems that London may have another serial case on their hands and results need to be fast. Stella is willing to risk herself by visiting her grass that lives in the darker area of the city. With such a heavy case load it does not help that her home life is in turmoil. She finds herself torn between the man she has been with for years, and a man that she thinks she loves. Will Stella be able to balance home, a horrific case and her increasing dependence on alcohol?
As a crime fiction fan I like my books to have a good mystery or crime story at the centre. The best authors have the added bonus of a charismatic and interesting central protagonist e.g. Harry Bosch or Jack Davenport. However, I have read many excellent crime books in which the central hero is a bit dull, but the story makes up for it e.g. Simon Beckett's books. What I have never read is a decent crime novel that has an in-depth central character, but a rubbish story. For me it is story first, character second. This is a lesson Lawrence does not follow.
'Night' is less of a crime book and more of a relationship drama in my opinion. The case is only caught fleetingly between prolonged stretched of DS Mooney complaining about her love life. I have read plenty of books that have an alcoholic central character with relationship problems, just never in as much detail as this. Lawrence has misplaced the emphasis of the book and wrongly thought that people were interested in Mooney more than the case. TBH things are not helped by Mooney not being the most sympathetic of women. It is not a gender thing with me as I never like characters that have affairs and such; I just find that they lose my sympathy. Perhaps Lawrence is trying to capture the feel of 'Prime Suspect', but in trying to do so he fails in both creating a likable character and in producing a decent narrative.
In the moments when we are not reading about Mooney's moral struggles we do get an adequate crime story. The suspects that Lawrence creates are actually of a slightly more interesting variety than usually found. There is a nugget of a good idea in the book and when reading about the baddy and how they came to do what they do I see a glimpse of real potential in the author. It is just a shame that we always seem to go back to how the case affects Mooney personally. Why can she not get over herself, there are victims and their families to care about before you think of yourself!
There is another issue I have with the setting. Lawrence paints London as a grim and dangerous place. He describes in short vignettes various murders, rapes and attacks all happening at the same time. If London truly were this dangerous half the population would have been murdered last year. The problem is that I know for a fact that London is reasonable, but I do not know this of LA or Miami. Therefore, I am always going to believe in a book set in America more than in the UK as I will not be able to point out the flaws.
As you can probably tell I was not enamoured with 'Nothing like the Night' at all. If the book had been advertised as contemporary or relationship fiction then I may have come at it from a different angle (but probably would have avoided it). This was not the case. 'Night' was meant to be a crime novel and it did a disservice by making the crime a peripheral and not core to the book. Instead as a reader you are left with a book that reads like a depressing 'Bridget Jones' Diary', if Jones was a miserable selfish police officer!
Author: David Lawrence
Price: amazon uk - £1.56 (used)