A motorway service station on the M1: dimly lit, run down, poorly supervised, flickering lights, dark corners; a favourite stopover for long-distance lorry drivers on their way up north from London. Behind it, a body is found in a ditch, that of a girl barely out of her teens. She appears to have no family, no friends, no connections anywhere. Other girls have gone missing in the vicinity and no one has stepped forward to claim them.
I've been happily reading the Anna Travis series by Lynda La Plante since the first book and enjoying them. Despite a few odds and ends that can be mildly annoying. Ongoing romantic angst, a tricky senior officer (in this case the early on love interest as well), and some seriously big books without always having quite enough story to fill out all of the pages.
BLIND FURY, unfortunately, nearly defeated me before the end. Which is a pity. Because the investigative elements of this book are actually not too bad. It does take a while for things to get moving mind you - but it's an interesting sort of a case, with the bodies of two young unidentified girls and an identified older prostitute seemingly having little in common. Aside from the circumstances of the dumping of their corpses, and the way in which they were raped and killed. Identifying the victims requires a lot of good old fashioned police investigative work - a lot of which is done by the team that Anna is working with - with flashes of insight from Anna herself. At the same time, for reasons best known to DCS Langton, Anna and a colleague also find themselves visiting a maximum security jail to discuss the case with a previously convicted multiple murderer who claims he has a unique insight into the mindset of this new killer.
Langton and Anna have a romantic history (they lived together at one point) and both have moved on. A while ago. It is mentioned, not quite as frequently as in earlier books, and it's sort of spiced up a little with some vaguely longing behaviour from Langton which seems to cause Anna to realise, frequently, that she's moved on. Moved on to the point where she forms a relationship with one of the guards on the unit where killer Cameron Welsh is held. And at this point the personal elements of the story start declaring themselves in bold face letters, with a little neon decoration for good measure.
BLIND FURY heads off into unbelievable territory fairly quickly - with the unfathomable concentration on an unconnected, unqualified, convicted killer as some sort of "expert" witness in the case. Which didn't stack up well on it's own, let alone when you also have to accept some of the leaps of brilliance or "intuition" elements of the normal Anna investigation style. Normally this sort of thing is a little easier to swallow as previous books have belted along at a good pace, but this one dragged. As the focus is increasingly on Anna and her personal life, the concentration on the actual investigation wanes - and that got really annoying, as the process of identifying the two unknown girls, connecting them to the dead prostitute and then the painstaking work required to try to identify suspects was reasonably compelling. Or at least it felt so stacked up beside the inevitability of the trainwreck that is Anna's personal life.
Overall there just wasn't enough of the good elements to hide or compensate for the increasingly sinking feeling of inevitability that hit as soon as a new man walked into Anna's life and the book dragged on to its foreseeable and really disappointing conclusion.
DEADLY INTENT, Lynda La Plante
Alexander Fitzpatrick is one of the most wanted men in the Western world. Wealthy, handsome, charismatic and supremely dangerous, with numerous aliases, Fitzpatrick is a drug-trafficker who has eluded arrest for more than thirty years. For the past decade there has been no sightings of him.
DEADLY INTENT is the fourth book in the Anna Travis series, made up of ABOVE SUSPICION, THE RED DAHLIA and CLEAN CUT. It's been a series which I've really enjoyed... up until this book, which I have to say disappointed.
Anna is a dogged sort of a detective character, who has had a complicated personal life - having had a short-lived but dramatic affair with her previous boss - James Langton. She is still feeling the loss of that relationship and finding dealing with Langton on a daily basis very difficult. When he steps into overall control of the investigation of the death of Brandon, she's dealing firstly with a very complicated case with no apparent leads, and secondly with her fragile personal feelings. Langton is more shadowy than ever in DEADLY INTENT as well, which is going to make it difficult for any reader new to the series to understand, for a start, what Anna could possibly have seen in him, or in his defence, why he is like he is. There are hints throughout but they just didn't seem to help that much. For such a big, hefty book there are a number of underdone major characters throughout which is disappointing. DCI Cunningham has a touch of the wonderfully acerbic, grumpy female seniors about her, but she bounces in and out of the narrative so much it's hard to get a good look at her.
The case is quite clever - the connections that slowly have to be built up to explain why Brandon was in the drug squat, what would lead to his presence being so threatening that somebody would blindly shoot him through a closed door, how the other bodies turning up are connected and onwards is actually nicely baffling and quite interesting. But it drags on for too long. There are too many connections and "coincidences" which aren't - and they obviously aren't, and it all grinds to a halt in the personal lives of all and sundry too frequently.
Another major distraction is that whilst in the earlier books there is a lot of concentration on the relationship between Travis and Langton, it's rise and ultimate fall fitted into the storylines well, not distracting from the main aim of the books which was always to solve a baffling crime. Unfortunately in this book - with the definite end of the relationship the constant soul-searching of Travis just gets in the way - there were way too many times when the reader was told all about how conflicted she is having to work with Langton, how she still loves Langton, how a new relationship will be complicated by the pain she felt when Langton left her. And she does form a new relationship in this book - and it is a bit of a highlight in the storyline for a short while.
Ultimately the biggest problem with DEADLY INTENT is that there is a a good crime and investigation buried in the middle of 641 pages - but there's not 641 pages of it. The book meanders, there's too much fill-in, too many unbelievable red herrings, and, despite being a fan of unresolved loose ends, there are too many threads in this book which are left frustratingly, unjustifiably and inexplicably dangling. It all smacked just a tiny bit of... In The Next Episode.
If you've not tried the Anna Travis series, then don't let my thoughts on DEADLY INTENT put you off the first three books - they were terrific. Perhaps don't start with this one though as there's a lot of the personal things that may not make sense, and the book could give you a slightly skewed view of Anna, who is really a very good central character.
CLEAN CUT - Lynda La Plante
When her boss DCI James Langton is horrifically injured, DI Anna Travis plays a major role in his rehabilitation. Langton was working to solve the murder of a young prostitute, the suspect an illegal immigrant. Anna is working on another murder case and gains enough evidence to send the killer down for twelve years. Two separate cases... which become unexpectedly linked.
CLEAN CUT is the third book in the Anna Travis series, based in London and La Plante knows how to write real female characters, and she's not afraid to make them likable and profoundly irritating all at the same time.
In CLEAN CUT, the spark that started between Anna and her boss, James has advanced to a full blown affair. He's keeping his own flat, but most nights he's at Anna's. And she's just ever so slightly grumpy about it - James is very self-absorbed and he's a selfish sod to live with and it's all grating just a bit on Anna. When James is horrifically injured arresting a suspect in the murder of a young prostitute in some ways Anna is really conflicted. She loves James, but he's a prickly patient and the prospect of caring for him during rehabilitation is worrying.
Because of the relationship between the two of them, they are working in different squads - on completely different cases, although Anna keeps in touch with the search for the suspect in the prostitute's murder - now wanted for the attack on Langton as well. And as you'd kind of expect, the murder of the young librarian - by a violent serial rapist just released from jail - that Anna is working on is connected to the prostitute case. Luckily the connection is nicely convoluted and built into an underworld of refugees, illegal immigrants, drugs and underworld crime.
There's a lot to like about this series - Anna is a great central character, she's not so cloyingly perfect that she makes the reader feel like a gross underachiever, but at the same time nothing is lost in creating the supporting cast. There's an awful lot to dislike about James Langton as well - he's obsessed, unaware, rude and gruff; but he's also capable of being apologetic, tender and kind. There's a good supporting cast as well which helps a bit as CLEAN CUT does have a very strong focus on Anna and James. So strong that it could be a bit of a danger of distracting from the investigations, if it wasn't for the slightly unusual angle that James is a victim himself.
Given that CLEAN CUT is the third book in the Anna Travis series it could still be read as a standalone - all you need to do is accept there's a bit of a backstory to how Anna and James got together and you should be able to go from there. But if you do read CLEAN CUT, make sure you go back and read ABOVE SUSPICION and THE RED DAHLIA as well. La Plante is a very assured writer of this style of book.
THE RED DAHLIA - Lynda La Plante
When the body of a young woman is found on the banks of the River Thames, the injuries turn out to have an unsettling similarity to the unsolved, 1930's Los Angeles case of Elizabeth Short - known as The Black Dahlia.
Detective Inspector Anna Travis is on the team investigating this horrible crime when Detective Chief Inspector James Langton is called in to take over from the original team leader. They have a prior working and private history and Travis is very hesitant and discomforted by the close presence of the volatile and erratic Langton. As the killer starts to taunt the murder team in a manner that follows the Black Dahlia case, right down to inciting local media to dub the victim The Red Dahlia, the team becomes increasingly aware that this a violent and vicious killer who thinks that taunting them is part of the game. It doesn't help that the victim herself is a bit of a mystery, and there are very few clues in her life to a possible perpetrator. Another copycat killing and Langton and Travis realise they have just a few days before the 3rd victim and absolutely no concrete leads. An anonymous tip off finally leads the team to a suspect, and from there on the novel becomes a race to the finish to try to prove the seemingly unprovable.
There is absolutely no doubt that La Plante can write big rip-roaring books with good characterisations and THE RED DAHLIA delivers on that promise. Whilst La Plante does write good, strong, human female characters they are not at the expense of the male characters. Langton starts off an uptight, inaccessible workaholic, becoming more human and vulnerable, even troubled. You can see why Travis would find him so attractive. The killer, who is known from the time of the anonymous tip off is pure evil, but not a caricature. There are some awful elements to the violence of the killings and to the events surrounding the suspect and his behaviour but these are handled carefully, with no attempt to shock or sicken the reader.
This is the second Travis and Langton book, the first being ABOVE SUSPICION but you do not need to have read the first to get the second. THE RED DAHLIA really was a great read - involving; fast paced; nicely balanced in terms of revelations of the violence and horror and sprinkled with just enough personal life to make you engage with all the characters.