Carl Whittley is at home. He's twenty-two and charged with caring for his crippled father. It's not much of a life but he has plenty of distractions. He's just tortured a sexy, young TV presenter to death and he's planning to blow an anonymous commuter to pieces.
DCI Mark Lapslie is at home too. He suffers from a rare neurological condition that has forced him to leave his family and to avoid the police station. Already, he is building a reputation amongst his superiors as a nuisance to be avoided - either that or a lunatic.
DCI Mark Lapslie is one of those grumpy, rumpled detective characters, with a slight twist. He has synaesthesia - sounds instantly trigger taste sensations. Which makes participating in the world profoundly difficult. The condition is so out of control that he's had to move to an isolated cottage, communicating with his colleagues via technology, keeping the noise at bay so that he can at least function a little. His wife has left him, taking their children with her, he's lonely, fraught, struggling to cope with the condition and the restrictions it places on his life.
Carl Whittley is lonely and bitter, struggling to cope with the reality of being sole carer for his invalid father. While he's doing the cooking, cleaning, colostomy bag changing, and all the personal care, his mother has left and is pursuing her career as a forensic psychologist. In some ways it makes a lot of sense that Carl's planning his third murder very early on in the book.
That last observation isn't much of a spoiler as McCrery doesn't write whodunnit style books, rather they are more an exploration of why. Why Carl Whittley would torture a glamorous TV presenter to death, blow up some poor innocent bloke in a railway station, and still be planning more mayhem. Why Mark Lapslie would try to stick with his job of Police DCI in the face of a personal disability that makes his every hour a nightmare. And one of the biggest mysteries? Why Lapslie's Chief Superintendent would think that putting him in charge of two seemingly unconnected events would provide the media pressure straw that would finally break Lapslie's back and remove him from the police force once and for all.
The synaesthesia aspects of the Lapslie series are the obvious hook that makes them different from other British, grumpy, rumpled, cynical and rather world-weary detective stories. The other difference is that idea of the who being known by the reader up front, and the books being less of a journey to the discovery, and more a look at the characters, their motivations, and ultimately, the way in which the detective get's the bloke the reader already knows all about. There's often traces of quite black humour in this series as well, although in this particular book you'll have to dig a little deeper to find it, and you may also need to have a fairly high tolerance for graphic descriptions. To be frank, there's very little about Carl and his activities that can be explained, or even vaguely quantified, and at the same time there's something rather bleak about the dogged way in which Lapslie pursues his perpetrator.
Not that TOOTH AND CLAW itself is bleak, this is really a very readable, absorbing and interesting entrant in a series that is definitely well worth pursing. I suspect it is, however, one of those series that would be best read in order, as the way that Lapslie's synaesthesia affects his life, his ability to do his job, and everyone around him does ebb and flow, and you need to understand how that all works to get an understanding of him overall.
The series in order:
Still Waters (aka Core of Evil)
Tooth and Claw
SCREAM - Nigel McCrery
As people disappear from his streets, and a handful of battered and broken bodies are discovered on his patch, Lapslie has no idea that he's up against a man who feels sound like he can taste it.
I doubt it's much of a coincidence being a big fan of the scripts and the acting in the TV Series NEW TRICKS, that I'm also a fan of the DCI Mark Lapslie series. After all, Nigel McCrery is a writer and creator of both. (Along with many other excellent TV series including Silent Witness and All the King's Men.)
SCREAM is the third in the DCI Mark Lapslie series, Lapslie being an unusual central protagonist who suffers from a particularly acute form of synaesthesia. In other words he experiences sounds as a variety of different flavours. Which makes receiving a very disturbing email; with a sound file attached which appears to be a recording of an unknown woman's death throes particularly confrontational for him. The situation isn't made any easier as Lapslie is in Pakistan at an international course on counter-terrorism, which means he has to fly back immediately to lead the investigation as it's obvious that the killer wants him involved.
In the meantime Lapslie's sergeant, Emma, is leading an investigation into the murder of a woman on Canvey Island. It seems that the victim was tortured before death, and whilst they do manage to identify the victim, it doesn't seem to move the investigation any further. Eventually it's trace evidence and the search to see if they have a serial killer that edges it slowly forward.
Lapslie and Emma have been developing a tentative working relationship in all three of these novels now, although in SCREAM things are complicated by Emma's ongoing relationship with local crook and police informer Dom McGinley. He's a most unlikely love interest for Emma, but there's something very pointed about Lapslie's objections, not that he's got any romantic feelings for Emma himself, his concerns are partly paternal, partly professional.
Obviously Lapslie's synaesthesia (which does contribute to his investigative ability) has been a major element in all the books thus far, although in SCREAM he is getting treatment, and the condition is not as overpowering, and therefore it's not as major a thread throughout the entire book. Which is actually a really good thing. Not only has the condition improved, his life in general is improving, he's even able to enjoy concerts or meals out with a new girlfriend. A considerable change, particularly from the first book, where he was effectively housebound. That sense of moving on helps make this a very engaging series, but I suspect, if you've not read either of the earlier books, you could be missing out on the importance of Lapslie's improved circumstances and outlook. It may make reading this book out of sequence a little less of an enjoyable experience.
But that won't make it an unpleasant experience. McCrery has a very deft manner in the way that he plots out a story, and draws a verbal picture of the forensic and crime scene details. Having said that, the books don't read as a film / TV script in the making - SCREAM is a great novel, with pace, humour, intrigue and tension.
STILL WATERS - Nigel McCrery
McCrery is the writer of Silent Witness and New Tricks - TV series that are undoubtedly instantly recognisable to a number of readers of this review, and there's something about the characterisations from those shows that rings bells of recognition in STILL WATERS. DCI Mark Lapslie is called back from "gardening leave" - extended sick leave - because his name has been flagged as somebody who could understand a particular mutilation of the body that was found at the scene of a fatal traffic accident. The investigation into this body proceeds slowly as, whilst the identification of the corpse isn't that hard, to all intents and purposes it looks like she never died.
STILL WATERS was an immediately engaging book, whilst simultaneously being slightly frustrating - for a whole lot of reasons. DCI Lapslie has synaesthesia - this means that he "tastes" sounds. Different sounds trigger different tastes. You can probably imagine this makes life a bit complicated - he says it's like being ambushed.
<td><em>"Ever bitten into an apple and found it had gone rotten inside? Ever taken a bite of a chocolate and found it was coffee flavour rather than strawberry? Sometimes flavours can surprise you. Sometimes, they can shock. That's why I had to take time off work - go on gardening leave. Things are home weren't going well, and my synaesthesia took a turn for the worse. I couldn't stand to be in the office, tasting everyone else's chatter, banter, lies and deceits. I was overwhelmed."</em>
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All the way through the book the taste sensations that he is experiencing are commented on - the way that individual people will trigger certain tastes, the tastes that other sounds generate. Strangely this isn't one of the frustrating elements of the book, it's built into the narrative in such a way as to give it some colour (for want of a dreadful attempt at a pun). Lapslie shares the major limelight of the book with a number of supporting characters such as his DS, Emma Bradbury, a no-nonsense sort of a copper - who makes a particularly memorable entrance as she bemoans the loss of the top of the range Porsche at the initial car crash scene, cursing drivers with more money than sense. The killer is also front and centre from the start of the book. What is slightly frustrating are the reasons Lapslie was called back from the long-term leave, given special considerations such as a Quiet Room in which to work, and a DS and then nothing else much; the reason why his name was flagged when the first body was found; the reason why his investigation is stymied and slowed and ultimately closed down, it's all a bit odd. There's some stuff in there that you're probably going to be disconcerted to find - either because it's so implausible it's unfathomable; or because it might just be plausible in which case it's still unfathomable.
All of that aside though, what's really fascinating about STILL WATERS is that this is basically a story of invisibility. It's not giving away too much of the plot to say that the person whose body is found, hasn't been noticed as missing. STILL WATERS is really exploring age, invisibility, social exclusion and how menacing is the villain that picks victims that are as invisible as they are.