Sunday, July 25, 2021

The Crooked Shore - Martin Edwards

This is book 8 in Martin Edwards Lake District Mysteries, but the first one I've read. The first thing I can say about it is that it works really well as a standalone, the second is that I'm now inclined to go back and read the rest of them - which is a mark of quality on both counts.

For those like me, who didn't know, the Lake District Mysteries focus on cold cases and a team headed by DCI Hannah Scarlett. In this book, they're looking into a disappearance from 20 years previously when a young woman disappeared, assumed murdered. The man accused of killing her is never convicted, but after the court case ends up committing suicide. His son does the same thing in the same place 20 years to the day later which precipitates the new investigation.

The cold case angle also appeals to me - in real life murders at the rate they happen here somewhere like the Lake District are unlikely, but I can willingly suspend my disbelief to imagine a scenario where one old tragedy sets a domino effect of continuing violence and disturbance across the decades. It doesn't take any suspension of disbelief to know that holding a grudge is something that people excel at, especially in small communities where memories are long. 

I have to be careful to avoid spoilers here, but I like the way the narrative follows a few different major threads and wondering how they'll all come together. It's an almost guaranteed page-turner for me, especially when I'm enjoying all the different elements (which I did here) and the way everything finally resolved in this was essentially satisfying. 

This is important given how much was going on, and if I had a criticism it would be that just before the end it felt like there might be a bit too much happening - and that isn't really a criticism, part of the fun of a book like this is the roller coaster feeling of gathering momentum. It works because of that cold case element - these are things that have been coming to a head for decades. There are also some interesting questions about moral and legal guilt which I'd love to discuss at length but can't if I'm to avoid those spoilers.

What I can happily talk about is the way Edwards uses small details to really good effect. There's the Lake District setting (which I suppose is actually a really big detail) which even if you don't know the area well (I don't, I've passed through it, but rarely stopped, and when I have it's been raining) still gives a tremendous sense of place. Some of the locations are fabricated, but it's still possible to pull up a map and follow what's going on. My favorite detail however is that one of the characters wears Givenchy's L'Interdit. It wasn't a scent I knew so I found it - and did it ever give me some opinions about the character who uses it. 

The thing about flavours and scents in books for me is that they make reading a much more layered, interactive, thing. You can use a lot of words describing someone's personality,  you can also offer a scent and let the reader work it out from there. My views on L'Interdit may be miles from Martin Edwards, although as it turned out my conclusions were fairly accurate - it wouldn't have mattered if they weren't. The fun of this is in the speculation that it gives rise to, and the treasure hunt aspect of tracking down a perfume, or a drink, or visiting a place that I've read about.

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