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.
"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."
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.
I've looked into the eyes of women who have banged nine-inch nails into the skulls of their victims with hammers ... we evaluate them, trying to determine whether they have actually changed, or whether there's still a core of evil within them...
Before his diagnosis, DCI Mark Lapslie thought everyone was like him. Now he knows he suffers from synaethesthesia - a rare neurological condition that has cross-wired his senses. The sickening clamour of sounds he can taste has smothered his marriage and stifled his career.
At the scene of a fatal traffic accident, Lapslie's interest isn't in the recently deceased driver, rather the desiccated corpse found lying next to him. Something about the body stirs a fleeting recollection at the back of Lapslie's mind... he can't quite put his finger on it, but he can almost taste it...
Memories haunt Violet Chambers. Taking tea with her friend Daisy, she knows it's time to move on. As Daisy falls to the floor, eyes streaming, face burning, Violet calmly waits. Black hellebore is remarkably potent. It won't be long now.