Critical Incidents (Robin Lyons 1) by Lucie Whitehouse

Strong start to a new series…

😀 😀 😀 😀

Robin Lyons has been dismissed from her job as detective inspector in the Met for disobeying orders and releasing a man her superior believed to have committed a murder because her instinct told her he was innocent. She intends to appeal the dismissal but in the meantime she has to find some other source of income to support herself and her teenage daughter, Lennie. So she’s on her way home to Birmingham, to live with her parents and to work for an old family friend, Maggie, another ex-police officer who now investigates insurance and benefit fraud, and occasionally other things. The first case Robin becomes involved in is the disappearance of a young woman whose frantic mother can’t get the local police to take the matter seriously. But then a crime much closer to home occurs, when Robin’s best friend Corinna is killed and her husband Josh goes missing. Robin can’t help wondering if it’s related to what happened ‘that day’ many years ago, so finds herself doing a bit of investigation into Corinna’s death too.

This book contains some of the features that have made me increasingly unenthusiastic about contemporary crime fiction in the last few years. There’s the ubiquitous ‘that day’ feature, when the crime involves something from the past coming back to haunt the present, but the reader isn’t told what actually happened in the past until the story is almost over, in a bid to create false suspense. There’s the utterly tedious casual swearing which serves no purpose. (It made me laugh that in fact at one point Robin, who never knowingly uses an alternative where the f-word will do, is appalled by the casual swearing of the kids in the local high school and wonders why standards have fallen so badly – yeah, possibly because everything teenagers read or watch is full of swearing maybe? Just a thought…) There’s the personal involvement of the detective with the crime, meaning we have to hear an awful lot about Robin’s grief over the death of her friend – never entertaining to me. And the book is roughly a hundred pages too long for the story it contains, meaning there’s a lot of unnecessary filler in there.

However, there are a lot of good things about it too. The story is interesting and, despite being overlong, the pacing is good so that it didn’t drag through the mid-section. It’s very well written, both in terms of the descriptive writing and the believable dialogue. Third person, past tense – a big hurrah from me for that! I thought Whitehouse’s depiction of her Birmingham setting was excellent, giving a real feel for the physical city and for the culture of what is probably the most racially diverse city in Britain outside London, with a huge and long-established Asian community. Happily, Whitehouse shows that, while racism still rears its ugly head on occasion, the majority of the citizens rub along fine together enjoying the added richness of a mixed culture. I found it a convincing and positive portrayal.

The characterisation is a mix. There are too many minor characters to keep track of and they never come to life, so that whenever one was mentioned I had to pause to try to remember who they were and how they fitted into the story. However, the major characters are very well developed, especially Robin and her parents. Robin is hard to like, opinionated, somewhat selfish and convinced that she knows better than everyone else. This is the first in a series, though, and it’s reasonably clear Robin is on a learning curve – that her recent troubles are giving her a level of self-awareness she’s never had till now. The tension between her and her mother is particularly well done – two women who annoy each other as much as they love each other, but who now have a chance to build a better relationship… or a worse one.

Lucie Whitehouse

Overall, despite a few weaknesses, I enjoyed this and thought it was well above average. This one reads like a private eye novel, but the series is billed as a police procedural so I anticipate that future books will see Robin back in harness. First books in series are always tricky since so much introduction and backstory is necessary, but I felt Whitehouse handled those aspects very well, creating some characters I will be happy to meet again. Recommended – a series I look forward to following.

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, 4th Estate at HarperCollins.

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32 thoughts on “Critical Incidents (Robin Lyons 1) by Lucie Whitehouse

  1. This does sound like a promising start, FictionFan. And I like the premise of the story (even with the ‘that day’ bit). Robin sounds like functional, ‘normal’ (dare I say it!) character, too, which is always refreshing. And the Birmingham setting appeals. Yes, I can see how you found things to like about this one.

    • I realised recently I’m not following many series at the moment, so was pleased to come across such a strong first book (although it’s not her debut). I did like Robin, despite her faults, and I loved the setting – I can’t think of another series I’ve come across set in Birmingham and it’s a city I’m fond of. Here’s hoping the series beds down nicely… 😀

    • Haha – I get so tired of it, it’s so lazy! But I thought this was a strong start to a series – I usually find the first book a bit slow as characters get introduced, so I’m looking forward to seeing how it develops in later books.

  2. Wonderful review, FF! It must be hard to start a series well (your post to me the other day about ending a series well made me think of this!) and to keep all that backstory from being too dry. This sounds quite promising based on how you felt about it. It’s always fun to check out a new series.

    • Thank you! 😀 Yes, I often find the first book in a series a bit slow while all the characters and the setting are introduced, so a four-star rating is pretty good from me. I liked Robin despite her flaws, and love the Birmingham setting – here’s hoping the series takes off!

  3. Oh my goodness. I read a book a few months ago with that premise of that day and rolled my eyes in annoyance. It wasn’t even a crime mystery but needless to say the book didn’t impress me.
    I’m glad the book had some good things, especially the development of the main characters and a very good representation of location where it’s set. I wonder if those minor characters might show up and have more of a presence in future books in the series. I’m sure you will let us know. 😉

    • Oh, the “that day” thing has been driving me up the wall for the last few years – it’s such a lazy way to try to create suspense! But I did like Robin despite her flaws and I loved the way she portrayed her Birmingham setting – it felt very credible and affectionate. I’m looking forward to seeing how the series develops… 😀

  4. P.S. Last but certainly not least I am so annoyed with the swearing in books. I had a soap box moment in one of my reviews of a book that was otherwise well done but lost some points because of the f-bombs.

  5. Same with TV, a lot of it is far too gratuitous. Language and sex—how much further can they go? It’s time less is more becomes the watchword *climbs off soapbox* 😁

  6. I just don’t know!! Maybe, for now, I’ll wait until there is a second in the series and see what you think about it. You’re right… firsts, trying to introduce all the characters and setting, can be tricky (and not always the strongest efforts), though it sounds like this one did okay in the long run.

    I’m afraid the younger generations have become far too desensitized to swearing, both in print and in film. I always think about my mother telling me it was the product of a small mind, not being able to come up with a more intelligent word. 😏

    • I’m trying to find a couple of new series to follow, and I thought this was a very good start so I’ll definitely read the second when it comes along. I usually find the first book in a series a bit slow as all the introductions are done, so the second book is the important one…

      Absolutely! It always amuses me that when bloggers quote from books they usually asterisk out the swear words, meaning they realise many people don’t want to read them – why do authors not realise that?? I just find it rather rude and a sign of not much creative skill…

  7. A hundred pages too long? Hmm, that tells me an editor wasn’t properly doing his/her job! And all that excess swearing? Ditto. Perhaps in the author’s defense, she was trying to stretch the storyline to meet publishing guidelines while adding a dose of “realism” so her book would be noticed and would sell. A pity, I think, that we bend over backwards to the occasional detriment of the story.

    • I’m afraid I find that extra hundred pages pretty standard in crime fiction these days. Vintage crime used to come in at around 250-300 pages – now books average 350-400. It must be pressure from the publishers, I think, but given the number of people who comment on unnecessary padding, I don’t understand why they insist on it…

  8. To get a four star rating despite being too long, with too much swearing and the irritation of whatever happened ‘that day’ is pretty good going. Don’t think I’ll read this, though.

    • Yes, I’m always willing to give the benefit of the doubt to the first book in a series because they’re very hard to get the pacing right with all the introductory stuff that has to be done. The second book will be the real test…

  9. I like your balanced review, FF, as always… I will hang back and see how the second one strikes you before I seek this one out. I’ve got too many mystery series going as it is right now! 🙂

    • I don’t seem to have many mystery series on the go at the moment, but I have lots of book 1s on my TBR! I’ll try a few and then decide which ones look worth following. This one was certainly good enough for me to look out for book 2… 😀

  10. Gawd I know exactly what you mean with the ‘that day’ false suspense building! I’m so sick of that, and it’s being used so often these days. I’d just rather not have the suspense at all. It seems like such a cop-out for authors *goes back to fuming in the corner*

  11. I’m not sure this is for me – I’m not a big thriller reader so the shortcomings you mention would bug me, especially the length and ‘that day’. But if the series proves good, I might be tempted!

    • I’m not overly enthused by contemporary crime as you know, but enjoy some police procedurals, so I’m hoping Robin gets back into harness in the next book. We’ll see!!

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