Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Life for a Life by T. Frank Muir - Book Review

Life for a Life by T. Frank Muir: A DCI Gilchrist Investigation (Chicago Review Press, 2015, 394 pages, $11.99/14.95) appears to be the fourth in a series of Gilchrist mysteries released in the U.S. since 2012. Life for a Life was first released in the United Kingdom in 2013. DCI Andy Gilchrist is based in St. Andrews Scotland, which turns out not to be the the sometimes sunny, always wind-swept home of the game of golf, but a dark, cold, crime beset city filled with plenty to keep a smart, thoughtful Detective Chief Inspector busy managing a group of subordinates who, while often effective, are sometimes difficult to differentiate from the villains they seek to control and put out of business. The book is marked by the brutal killings of a series of women and a few men, each decapitated in both gruesome and almost clinically described ways which many might find distasteful. I suppose my own experiences as a reader of British crime fiction by the likes of Agatha Christie, P.D. James, and Dick Francis, for instance, have inclined me toward a more gentile, English setting not representing the dark state of a changing British society. My loss.....

Life for a Life opens with a set piece of a young woman fleeing a dark, unseen presence across a cold, windswept landscape near the seaside. Soon her body is discovered by an elderly couple walking their dog and the police are called under the direction of DCI Andy Gilchrist. According to Wikipedia a Detective Chief Inspector is the “minimum rank held by a senior investigating officer” in major police stations. I gather that Gilchrist commands a wide variety of specialists including uniformed and plain clothes police, a sexy medical examiner with whom he has been romantically involved, and a group of investigators who have plenty of problems of their own. Gilchrist is recently divorced, has two children, and enjoys a pint or two with his staff after work. He's also smart with a terrific memory, not given to acting too quickly or putting himself at immediate risk, but sometimes impulsive, which gets him in trouble in this often gripping novel.

Detective Sergeant Jessie Janes has been transferred to Gilchrist's jurisdiction for unspecified reasons but vouched for by her previous supervisor. Gilchrist goes to a comedy club to discover her trying out a new routine, meeting a complex, edgy, secretive character whom he takes on as his partner for the investigation of the murdered girl. Janes is seeking a new career as a comedian, hoping to be able to earn enough money to get a cochlear implant for her deaf son. She has a deeply hidden secret in her life, which she hopes to keep hidden because of its possible effect on her career with the police. Nevertheless, she's bright, quick witted, and knowledgeable about crime and criminals in the region, particularly those involved with sex trafficking in Great Britain.

The novel becomes increasingly complicated as DCI Gilchrist's conflicted feelings about his own life post divorce and his relationships with his subordinates become part of the plot. Apparently, British cops, isolated from the rest of society, rely on each other as both sex and drinking partners. Their complex relationships also get them personally involved with the objects of their work, criminals. The ability of untrammeled criminal power fueled by drugs and sex traffic to corrupt the underpaid forces of the law have become the stuff of much British fiction I have read recently. The dark spots in Jessie Janes' background, starting with her horrific mother, are emblematic, not idiosyncratic, of the larger disease Gilchrist must struggle against. Fortunately, his moral compass is pretty accurate and his leadership style even-handed and governed by his intelligence rather than his hormones. The result is an interesting, arresting story despite the graphic violence.

T. Frank Muir

“Born in Glasgow, Frank Muir was plagued from a young age with the urge to see more of the world than the rain sodden slopes of the Campsie Fells. By the time he graduated from University with a degree he hated, he’d already had more jobs than the River Clyde has bends. Short stints as a lumberjack in the Scottish Highlands and a moulder’s labourer in the local foundry convinced Frank that his degree was not such a bad idea after all. Twenty-five years of working overseas helped him appreciate the raw beauty of his home country. Now a dual US/UK citizen, Frank divides his time between Richmond, Virginia, and Glasgow, Scotland, carrying out research in the local pubs and restaurants. Frank is currently doing some serious book research in St Andrews' local pubs, and working on his next novel, another crime story suffused with dark alleyways and cobbled streets and some things gruesome.” (from Goodreads bio taken from Muir's web site)

Life for a Life by T. Frank Muir: A DCI Gilchrist Investigation (Chicago Review Press, 2015, 394 pages, $11.99/14.95) is a police procedural set in the cold, threatening Fife region near fabled St. Andrews, which emerges as a place very different from the birthplace of golf we know from television. Fife, from the map, appears to be a relatively isolated peninsula jutting into the North Sea and somewhat isolated from the rest of Scotland, being surrounded on three sides by water. This tense, gripping novel sometimes loses a little of its drive due to the complexity and number of characters. Nevertheless, it emerges as an arresting mystery whose violence is largely character driven, with lots of interesting and conflicted characters interacting as they work towards the solution of an ever widening criminal enterprise. You might very well enjoy this one. I received the book as an electronic galley supplied by the publisher through Edelweiss: Beyond the Treeline. I read it on my Kindle App.