Thursday, March 15, 2018

Shadow Play by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles

First Sentence:  Where roads and railways cross old established ground, there are bound to be odd triangles left over, too small or too ill-favoured for development.
      
A well-dressed corpse with no identification turns up in the yard of an auto repair shop.  The owner can’t identify him, nor does the flash-drive the police find in the victim’s pocket although it suggests he was blackmailing an MP associated with an important government project.  The autopsy exposes a man whose injuries are at odds with his appearance.  Was he working for someone else?  It’s up to Inspector Bill Slider and his team to find the answers.
      
There is nothing better than a clean opening; no prologue, just straight into the story and, in this case, the crime.  An observations point for those who are Anglophiles is how nice it is to have a British mystery which hasn’t been Americanized either in spelling or in vocabulary—“Lots of tyre tracks,”—although do have a sweater, rather than a jumper.  Or do Brits use the term "sweater"?  Someone will tell me.
      
The author’s wry humor is always in evidence, as well as her use of dialect to establish a character’s geographic, education, and economic background—“Ooh, look who it is.  I ‘ope we’re no in dutch,’ Mrs. Sid said jocularly.  …’We ha’n’t got any tofu, darlin’.’—but never so that it is cumbersome to read.  Her descriptions of people are a treat—”in the entrance foyer was a very large bald bouncer.  His shoulders and chest were big enough to warrant their own postcode, and made the rest of this body appear unnaturally tapered.  He looked like what you’d get if you shaved a buffalo.” CH-E is very good at bringing all her characters to life.
      
One of the great appeals of Harrod-Eagles books is the characters and that she has created a true ensemble cast.  We come to know each member of Slider’s team, and appreciate how each has their individual role within the team, but that they work as a unit.  Yet the cast also extends to their personal relationships; their families.  The characters are truly well-developed, each with their own personalities, such as Porson, Slider’s boss, with the way in which he mangles clichés—“You ought to be seeing the light for the trees by now.’  But in the end, it is still Slider who leads the team and demonstrates the reason why he is in charge, such as his deduction of how to find what the killer sought. 
      
The balance between working the case and the teams’ personal lives, particularly Slider’s is nicely done.  Even though it plays a smaller role in this book than previous ones, it always adds a realism to brightness to the story.
      
CH-E’s insights are another of the many attractions to her writing—“Slider drifted a little, thinking about mankind’s propensity to turn any investigation to harmful purpose. … Oh, Mankind! Would you ever get your act together?”.  She thinks about the small things:  not only in the crime and it’s detection, but about society in general—“...the catch-up meeting was held over lunch in the CID room. …All human life is here, Slider thought.  "You could write a treatise about how the lunchtime sarnie is a window on the soul.”  A line toward the end really does say it all—“The absurdity of human ambition and human endeavor never failed to strike Slider.”
     
 “Shadow Play” is a very well-written, solid police procedural with excellent characters, humor, and things about which to think.


SHADOW PLAY (Police Proc-Bill Slider-England-Contemp) – VG
      Harrod-Eagles, Cynthia – 20th in series
      Severn House – Feb 2018

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