Book Review: An Unfamiliar Murder

An Unfamiliar MurderI’m not typically a big fan of murder stories–probably to do with an overactive imagination that will easily project blood, gore, and evil intent on my own world with only slight provocation–but Jane Isaac is part of a small circle of authors who’ve been inordinately supportive of my own efforts, so it seemed only fair to at least give her book a try.

Her blurb made me think I would be putting the book down partway through–to avoid nightmares!–but was also compelling enough to to poke my nose in when I got the chance today:

Arriving home from a routine day at work, Anna Cottrell has no idea that her life is about to change forever. But discovering the stabbed body of a stranger in her flat, then becoming prime suspect in a murder enquiry is only the beginning. Her persistent claims of innocence start to crumble when new evidence links her irrevocably with the victim… Leading her first murder enquiry, DCI Helen Lavery unravels a trail of deception, family secrets and betrayal. When people close to the Cottrell family start to disappear, Lavery is forced into a race against time. Can she catch the killer before he executes his ultimate victim?

The twin themes of women’s disempowerment and family ties underlie the well-crafted storyline:

“In view of the Super’s threats she wanted to make sure that there were no gaps, nothing screamingly obvious that she had missed, that an accomplice may notice immediately–leading to a quick arrest. She looked at her watch. It read two o’clock. She was desperate. She had just over a day to solve this case before another senior officer would muscle in.

Helen was not laboring under any illusions. The introduction of an assistant at this point in the investigation would blight her career, whatever the outcome. In an organization where strong characters and competition at all levels was rife, it would be seen as a weakness in her professional ability by her seniors and a failure in her role as an incident manager by her team.”

It would be foolish, though, to think that the two characters whose perspectives dominate the tale are weak. Despite being saddled with a debilitating fear of closed doors, Anna proves she’s no shrinking violet within the first chapters of the book, displaying admirable presence of mind in the face of a jimmied door and dark apartment.

Helen has her own weight of melancholy and history working at cross-purposes with her career ambitions. Having lost her husband to an accident, she’s now dealing with raising two sons to adulthood without a partner–and the sometimes dubious support of her mother.

This story had a whole lot less to do with the horror of a gruesome murder that could well be the work of a serial killer, and a whole lot more to do with the psychology of family ties. Particularly interesting are the parallels between the women’s relationships with their fathers. This really is a modern story, reflecting the tensions of being raised in a world that allows the theory of women’s advancement with limited practical application of it in fact.

I had expected to dip my toes into the tale, and instead was pulled in head-first, only surfacing briefly for a conversation with my mom, before devouring the end. I can happily recommend it to anyone who’s looking for a fast-paced suspense novel, tracing the ins and outs of a contradictory police investigation. I thoroughly enjoyed it (despite the opening scenes painting horrifying pictures in my brain) and look forward to what promises to be a very interesting series.

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