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When a fire engulfs a convent in London, the ten nuns who make up the Order are all killed. But there is another body too, and it’s up to Detectives Jack Carrigan and Geneva Miller to find out who she was and why she was there. This is a complex, somewhat sprawling thriller that looks not just at the underbelly of crime in London but also at politics within the Roman Catholic church, and across the world to the impact of big business on the peasants of Peru.
Although this is the second in the Carrigan and Miller series, it works well as a standalone. I haven’t read the first in the series but didn’t find that affected my understanding of this one. The characterisation of both the detectives is well done, as we see the strain of the investigation telling on them. Both detectives come with a fair amount of personal baggage – Carrigan still recovering from the death of his wife, while Miller is dealing with the after-effects of the breakdown of her marriage. The reader can see an attraction forming between them which they themselves haven’t yet admitted to, which adds an interesting edge to their relationship.
There’s a fair amount of violence in the book with some particularly gruesome descriptions of torture at one point, and the overall tone of the book is pretty grim, unleavened by humour or hope. Carrigan in particular takes a bleak view of the world around him and the reader spends much of the book looking through his eyes. Not quite noir, but certainly a pretty dark grey.
The quality of the writing is high, especially in the descriptive passages, and, while the violence is a bit graphic at times for my taste, it is written very effectively. At times the dialogue comes across as unconvincing – the phraseology is too formal and well-turned to sound quite like the spoken word.
While I found the book very readable, the plot does veer between the predictable and the implausible and crosses both those lines at several points. As always, the Catholic church is portrayed as close to evil in the way it manipulates and controls people – a very overused theme. The Peruvian strand is interesting and clearly well researched, with some hard-hitting descriptions of the brutality that was used on both sides during the era of the Shining Path guerrilla movement. However, again the link to the current investigation stretches belief uncomfortably thin. Throw in some Eastern European drug barons and a bit of people-trafficking and it all becomes just a bit too much – sometimes less really is more. And unfortunately the end relies on one of the most overused twists of all time, no more credible in this book than in any of the countless others it has appeared in. In fact, had the book finished before the final twist, I would have found it much more satisfying and believable.
In the end, I feel the strengths of the book – the descriptive writing and the characterisation of the detectives – just about outweigh the weaknesses of the over-complexity and lack of credibility of the plot. Despite the problems, I would recommend this as an enjoyable read overall and I will be interested to see how the series develops in the future.
NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Faber & Faber.