Kate London worked for the English police force both as a beat cop and as a detective, and it shows. Her debut, Post Mortem is a solid, well observed, sometimes surprising procedural. London deconstructs the small decisions and the slippery slope of arse covering that can lead to tragedy, and then how people deal with the fallout of their decisions.
Post Mortem opens with the tragedy. A seasoned beat officer and a fourteen year old girl lie dead at the base of an apartment block. Still on the roof, a young policewoman and a five year old child, abducted earlier that day by the dead girl. Lizzie Griffiths, the young officer, is allowed to go home but runs when the investigators come to try and find out what happened.
The story then centres around two women. The first is Lizzie, on the run and lying low for reasons that only slowly become clear. Much of the narrative surrounding Lizzie is told in flashback, describing the events that led up to the book’s shocking opening. London carefully observes Lizzie’s behaviour and the behaviour of the police officers that she works with, revealing the way that her relative inexperience is manipulated. Lizzie tries her hardest to help people but is quickly drawn in to the us-and-them mentality of her colleagues.
Meanwhile, Detective Sarah Collins, is trying to both track Lizzie down and solve the crime, coming under increasing pressure from the higher ups. When her investigation starts to centre on one of Lizzie’s commanding officers, the police politics become even more caustic. Sarah is not as richly described as Lizzie. She comes across as a typical police investigator of the type that appears on a multitude of British police dramas. A workaholic who gets the job done by ignoring police culture, placing a barrier between herself from her colleagues as a result.
While the stories of the two women alternate, Lizzie is really the centre of the tale. Her dilemmas, the decisions she has to make, and her choices are well described. London displays a much deeper understanding of what makes Lizzie tick. The investigating officers, Collins and her colleagues, are less well drawn making some of their actions, particularly towards the end of the book, a little puzzling.
The resolution of Post Mortem, if it can be called that, is messy, and as a result adds to the overall feeling of veracity. There is no easy, Agatha Christie style drawing room revelation or criminal mastermind spilling their guts. When the novel finishes, only the reader has a grasp of the full circumstances of events.
Post Mortem is supposed to be the start of a series. If London is going to focus that series around Sarah Collins then she has a lot more work to do. If she continues to focus in on police culture, and the messiness of real life, then this promises to be a series to watch.