Friday, 20 January 2017

Crime Fiction: Sophie Hannah's Hurting Distance (Culver Valley series, book 2)

Publication date: 23 August 2007
Published by: Stodder & Houghton

This is the second of the Culver Valley series, set in fictional Spilling, in North England. I reviewed the first in the series, Little Face, on 4th November 2016.

Hurting Distance follows a similar format to the first book, i.e., the narration alternates between the first person perspective of the person who reported the crime, Naomi Jenkins, and the third person perspective, focusing on one of the plain-clothes police officers - in this case DS Charlotte (Charlie) Zailer.

Naomi is having an affair with a married man, Robert Haworth, whom she has met once a week at the same time and place for the past 2 years.  When he does not arrive for their scheduled meeting she becomes worried.  After a few days without any word she goes to his house to look for him.  She creeps up to the house and looks through the window.  What she sees causes her to pull back and is followed by a panic attack.  She hurries to her car and on the way is confronted by Robert's wife, Juliet, who tells her she will never see him again and that she (Naomi) will be better off.  What she has seen in the window and what she has been told by Juliet causes her to report that her lover is missing and (she suspects) is in terrible danger...

Sophie Hannah's crime stories are quite complex.  I would describe this one as elaborate (and, dare I say, far-fetched).  As the story unfolds events become inextricably linked and, as the narrator points out, 'there are no coincidences'.  Once again the lines between the personal and professional lives of the police investigating the crime are blurred.

Spilling CID is very much a fictional one; one that would make a good TV soap. The officers are mostly superfluous and instead Naomi assumes the role of the principal investigator, while the DS and her DCs spend far too much of their time being either self-absorbed or overly absorbed in the lives of each other.  There is a DC with prenuptial moodiness, there is a DC who is preoccupied with juggling his marriage with his 'extracurricular' affairs, and then there is Charlie, whose response to Simon's rejection moves a gear up (from mortifying to humiliating).  Simon is the only one who seems focused on the job, and that is not easily done, thanks to Charlie.  There are occasions, on the job,  when Charlie's behaviour is unprofessional (e.g. sharing information about the case with people she should not), unethical (e.g. showing a complete lack of sensitivity for the victim of the crime, and not caring about the risk of putting the victim in harms way) and incompetence (e.g. events that cause her car to be stolen). 

An extended plot is emerging (one that is likely to span many novels) that is centered around the relationship between Charlie and Simon.

Hurting Distance is not without merit, since it explores sexism, misogyny and hate crime in its darkest form.   However, like most of the populist crime fiction novels I have read, I am beginning to get the impression that the Spilling CID series is rather light, contrived and lacking rigor.

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