Friday, 4 November 2016

Crime Fiction: Sophie Hannah's Little Face (Culver Valley series, Book 1)

Published by: Hodder & Stoughton
Publication date: 26 August 2006

The Spilling CID, (Criminal Investigation Department of the British Police Force - I had to look it up!), is set in fictional Culver Valley North England.  It centres around 2 main characters, DS - Detective Sergeant - Charlie Zailer and DC - Detective Constable - Simon Waterhouse.

The first book in the series alternates between the first person perspective of the victim of a crime, Alice Fancourt, and the third person perspective, when it focuses on DC Simon Waterhouse.  Alice contacts the police and reports that, while she was away from home, her new born baby was kidnapped and swapped for another.  She was only away for a few hours and on her return, she finds the front door open, her husband asleep and another person's baby lying where her daughter, Florence, should be. This baby has the same blue eyes and milk spots on its nose as Florence.  Alice can't quite say how she knows it is not Florence - except to say this baby has 'a different face'.  Her husband thinks she is losing her mind, since he (says he) believes Florence and the baby known as 'Little Face' are the same person.  Simon is in the area when it is called in and agrees to go to the house to investigate...

The crime in this story reads like a classic detective mystery.  I am the kind of reader who is constantly trying to second guess a plot and unravel what is going on, so this book presented a challenge for me.  There were a few 'red herrings' and I was kept in the dark all the way through.  I found myself getting frustrated, as a result, and so, if I am honest, it was not a particularly enjoyable read.  It felt like the plot did not make sense.  There is a fair amount of complexity in this crime, which is part of the reason it is challenging to work out.  However, a lot did fall into place after the big reveal at the end - just as a crime mystery should.  Unfortunately, the red herrings made no sense at that point and the story felt contrived. 

The book also introduces the plain-clothes police officers and provides some backstory for the main characters, Simon and his boss Charlie (Charlotte Zailer).  We learn that the relationship between them is a complicated one (of the unrequited love kind - something that is revealed too early in the novel to be a spoiler), resulting in tension between the two of them and some awkward moments in the workplace.  Let's say there is blurring between the line of the personal and the professional.  Charlie can't seem to keep her feelings separate on the job and the end result is rather mortifying for her.  In some ways the dynamics between the characters are realistic, demonstrating perceptiveness on the part of the author.  For example, the way Simon's feelings of emasculation and self-doubt get in the way of his relationship with Charlie. He knows how she feels but he thinks she sees him as a 'work in progress.'

I would recommend this series to crime fiction lovers who enjoy classic mysteries in a modern setting.  Bear in mind that there is also a fair amount of focus on the personal relationships of the police officers - which some may find rather soap opera like (which may or may not be your kind of thing).

The Culver Valley series is addictive reading.  I've already picked up a copy and read book 2, Hurting Distance, and I find myself reaching for book 3.

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