The opening of Leigh Russell’s Stop Dead finds Inspector Geraldine Steel recently installed in a north London homicide team. Far from Kent and her familiar turf, Steel is yet to finish unpacking the moving crates that litter her new flat. It’s a new start all round: new gaff, new job, new colleagues and the twists of turns of the new office’s sexual politics to negotiate.
‘She hadn’t realised how lonely she was in London. But there was no time to question the sense in driving two hours to meet a friend for a drink.’
To top it all, there’s a murder to solve. Patrick Henshaw, owner of a swish Soho restaurant has been found brutally murdered at the wheel of his Merc on the Caledonian Road. As Steel negotiates the opening stages of the case with her new Detective Sergeant, Sam (Samantha) Haley in tow, she needs to find her feet, and fast. When Henshaw’s business partner is murdered in the same horrific manner, Steel is under pressure.
If there isn't trouble enough, a scene of crime DNA sample implicates a woman who has been in prison for twenty years, and another who has been dead for two years, Steel and Haley find themselves clutching at straws with a killer on the loose and notching up the body count.
In a crime fiction market littered with emotionally bruised DIs with more hang-ups than Woody Allen’s coat rack, Geraldine Steel sticks out as a believable copper. Homesickness and a family hiccup from the discovery of her status as an adoptee aside, Steel moves methodically from scene to scene searching for the clue that picks the crime apart.
There are the usual cast of police-pro characters, a brassy griefless widow and her toy-boy lover, a spiky young pathologist, a brusque guv’nor, grubby witnesses and a French chef who arrives direct from central casting in time for some light relief.
Stop Dead rattles along apace. There is something of a mid-story dip, but for the most part the narrative unfolds with reveals a-plenty. The fifth in the series of Russell’s Geraldine Steel novels – the first, Cut Short was nominated for the CWA New Blood Dagger Award for first novel – it flows easily on the stream of investigative minutiae. Leigh Russell’s research is evident and she confidently steers Steel and Sam Haley along their investigative path.
And it is Steel who carries us through. Frequently uncertain of herself, it’s her apparent fallibility which is Stop Dead’s strongest suit. But when push comes to shove, Geraldine Steel takes her chances and gets the job done.
Stop Dead by Leigh Russell is published by No Exit and is available on kindle – paperback to follow in May 2013.