Forensic expert Professor Nick Fennimore has engineered lectures in Chicago and St Louis – a ploy to get to Detective Chief Inspector Kate Simms. She’s in the United States on sabbatical with St Louis PD, and he’s keen to see her again. Simms is working with a ‘method swap’ team, reviewing cold cases, sharing expertise. But Simms came to the US to escape the fallout from their previous case – the last thing she needs is Fennimore complicating her life.
A call for help from a sheriff’s deputy in Oklahoma seems like a welcome distraction for the professor – until he hears the details: a mother dead, her child gone – echoes of Fennimore’s own tragedy.
Nine-year-old Red, adventuring in Oklahoma’s backwoods, has no clue that he and his mom are in the killer’s sights. Back in St Louis, investigators discover a pattern: victims – all of them young mothers – dumped along a 600 mile stretch of I-44. The Oklahoma and St Louis investigations converge, uncovering serial murders across two continents and two decades. Under pressure, the killer begins to unravel, and when a fresh body surfaces, the race is on to catch the I-44 killer and save the boy.
Having reviewed the first collaboration between crime author Margaret Murphy and forensic scientist Professor Dave Barclay, Everyone Lies , here last year, I was looking forward to Believe No One, the second in the series. Relocating DCI Kate Simms and forensic expert Professor Nick Fennimore to the USA for the duration of this book was a brave and original move, so was interested to see how effectively this would work…
Without a doubt, all the essential tensions and unspoken chemistry between the main protagonists, so evident in Everyone Lies, shone through and the characterisation of Kate and Nick was pitch perfect. I like the more dysfunctional aspects of their characters very much, Nick’s through the loss of his wife and child, and Kate through the pressures of her professional and personal life as a high ranking female detective. I also loved the premise of Kate hot-footing it to America at the earliest opportunity, to provide some distance from her suffocating relationship with Nick, only for Nick to appear in a true ‘tah-da’ fashion, like a genie from the bottle. The ramifications of the intensity of their investigation in the first book, and Nick’s continuing torment over his own personal tragedy, provide a solid base for the development of their of their relationship throughout the course of their American sojourn. Sometimes, I did want to give Nick a good shake, as he does come across at times as too much of a little wounded puppy, rather than adhering to the adage that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, and somehow undermining his professionalism as a forensic psychologist of some distinction. Likewise, Kate is a little indulgent with him at times, whilst trying to distance herself, so these less admirable facets of their characters, make them altogether more human, and interesting for the reader, manipulating our empathy back and forth between them.
Less successful for me was the actual realisation of the investigation that both Kate and Nick find themselves immersed in. There was nothing fundamentally wrong with the plot, which I found compelling, as the hunt is on for a serial killer, and serial killers, by and large always provide good morbid entertainment for the average crime reader. The little twists and turns of the investigation were pleasing enough, although I did find the direct echoing of Nick’s personal tragedy, with the disappearance of women and children, a little forced at times. Being a prolific reader of American crime fiction, I can’t quite put my finger on why, but I did feel that there was a certain lack of authenticity about the realisation of the American characters. I did begin to feel that they could have been transposed to any country, and felt they lacked a real sense of ‘being American’. I don’t know if this was due in part to the stiffness of the dialogue when Kate and Nick were interacting with their American counterparts, which to me didn’t carry the cadence of realistic American speech patterns, or just an overall weakness in capturing the feel of the American location generally. It was almost as if the plot and the development of Kate and Nick’s characters took prominence over the attention that should have been afforded to rooting the story in the location chosen and imbuing the American characters with an authentic voice.
However, criticisms aside, I would still recommend this book, along with the first, as a solid pick for crime readers. With the experience of Margaret Murphy accrued from many years as a crime writer, and the intricacy and detail of the forensic psychology that Professor Dave Barclay brings to the collaboration, the foundation is built for a long-running series. I, for one, am very interested to see what Kate and Nick get involved in next…
A. D. Garrett is the pseudonym for the writing collaboration of prize-winning thriller writer Margaret Murphy and forensic scientist Professor Dave Barclay. Margaret Murphy is the author of nine psychological thrillers. She lectures on writing and is a former Royal Literary Fund Writing Fellow. She is founder of Murder Squad, a touring collective of crime writers, and was Chair of the Crime Writers’ Association in 2009-10. Professor Barclay holds two university posts and is a forensic adviser to the police forces and the media. He was Head of Physical Evidence at the UK National Crime and Operations Faculty for 10 years. He is currently working for several UK police forces and a state of Australia on high profile murders. He is part of the ‘Murder, Mystery and Microscopes’ team which aims to explain the real science behind popular crime fiction via a national series of public lectures http://www.margaretmurphy.co.uk/
(With thanks to Constable & Robinson for the ARC)