THE SIMIAN CURVE starts with a harrowing chapter about a lost child, by far the most tense part of the book. It rapidly changes, however, into a completely different type of story, as the rescue services attempting to save the child cut through the wall of a garage on a large London council estate – and discover a body.
The rest of the book is a police procedural featuring DCI Diane Cresson. Who was the dead man? Why is his body preserved in such a strange way? It turns out that the victim was a scientist recently fired from his job with a pharmaceutical start-up company. The identification throws up yet more questions: why was he living in a small flat on a council estate while apparently rich, having given his wife a large divorce settlement? The team investigating the case finds another house owned by the murdered man, but this discovery throws up yet more puzzling questions. The story of the search for a motive and perpetrator for the crime pans out in brisk and readable fashion.
The three main detectives have the usual set of domestic and personal problems to contend with to add a few human touches to an otherwise slightly mechanical account. Diane herself has a successful career but has to work such long hours that she barely sees her young children. Luckily for her, she has an impossibly tolerant husband and a convenient sister-in-law for babysitting. DS Mike Arnett constantly receives mysterious phone messages and texts which he deletes without reading or hearing, and there is tension within his marriage. And DC Clare Quant is young, on a stellar career track, but has a secret that she doesn't reveal to her colleagues. Added into the mix is Gregor Aleti, recently released from prison in Germany and clearly up to no good. And it isn't just office politics that are hampering Diane's investigation: the Ministry of Defence seems to be successfully blocking crucial avenues; and the dead man's colleagues and contacts from the biotech industry aren't exactly forthcoming, either.
THE SIMIAN CURVE is a well-put-together page-turner. The author resists the temptation to turn the scientist characters into cliches, although the concept of a secretive club where members can exchange exclusive information is a bit wide of the way in which scientific research is actually communicated. I also found that the efficiency of the Ministry of Defence's shadowy emergency plans for the country in the event of an energy crisis, while touchingly reassuring, somehow unbelievable. The plot builds up into an exciting finale, with most of the mysteries solved and a couple of twists, one predictable and one quite shocking. The writing style is not the most smooth, but it is pretty assured for a first novel. The pace is fast, with plenty of action: you won't get bored reading this book.