New detection

It's always a delight to discover a previously unknown crime writer, and to know that this is going to be the start of a long and happy relationship. I've known the writer, Cynthia Harrod-Eagles, for some time. I first read some of her Morland Dynasty novels when I was in my late teens, and loved them. More recently I discovered her War at Home series, set during the First World War. These were very different reads in some ways from the Morland series, but there were many elements in common. Not least the fact that she's able to educate and entertain equally deftly.

As I mentioned when reviewing Goodbye Piccadilly (Keep the Home Fires Burning has also been reviewed since) I had just discovered that Harrod-Eagles had also written a detective series based around the London Met detective, Bill Slider, and had made a memo to myself that I needed to read them. Well, you'll be pleased to know I've finally got round to reading my first Bill Slider - One under - and thoroughly enjoyed it.

One under is the latest in the series, but although there's a certain amount of back-story, it's no big deal, so this is as good a novel to start into the series as any other. I guess this may be partly because of Harrod-Eagles background as a writer of novels that span vast periods of time. She's got the knack for maintaining the integrity of the series, while also enabling a reader to dip in at different points without feeling overwhelmed by all that has gone before.

At the moment my TV of choice has been almost exclusively The Wire. It's great break-up TV, it's not something I ever watched with my ex, it's compulsive viewing, has absolutely no connection with anything in my daily life; and it has both Dominic West and Idris Elba (all be it sporting rather strange accents, at least for a British audience). What's not to like? The Bill Slider mysteries, if One under is anything to judge by, have some things in common with The Wire. One under is a great police procedural, and it has a taciturn cop who's determined to get to the bottom of the mystery and support those who are least able to help themselves.

In fact it was all very reminiscent of a recent comment that I'd heard in a BBC documentary about women crime writers - Imagine : Serial Killers. Julie Bindel talking about the violence towards women that occurs in crime fiction (a reflection of society) said that she reads crime fiction partly because in crime fiction there is usually a "good" outcome. Someone will speak for these women, in a way that in real life sadly rarely happens.

And this is very true of One under, a classy police procedural. The novel opens with two apparently unrelated incidents, both of which appear to be innocent enough - an unexpected suicide of a quiet town planner at an underground station - the "one under" of the title - and a hit and run in leafy Harefield. The teenager concerned in the hit-and-run rings alarm bells with DCI Bill Slider, who had come across her before, as the friend of an unexplained body dump. As Slider starts to investigate against the advice of his superior, he becomes convinced that there is something very nasty going on; with movers and shakers in high places pitted against seemingly street-wise, but all too naive kids from the Inner City.

One under is surprisingly charming. It manages both to be a tough and fairly gritty police procedural, while also remaining humane. For any musicians among the readers there's a nice vein of musical humour (Bill's wife is a professional violinist). As a crime novel the threads are knitted together neatly and it proves to be an enthralling read. I absolutely loved this, and look forward to reading more Bill Slider.


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