A GREATER EVIL is the eighth Trish Maguire book, but my first – I enjoyed it a lot, and it didn't matter that I hadn't read the earlier titles. Although the murder near the start of the book is of the grimmest variety – a heavily pregnant woman is bludgeoned to death – the story is told briskly and in an upbeat manner, yet acknowledging head-on the tragedies of fact and emotion uncovered by this event.
Trish Maguire is a successful lawyer, representing the loss-adjusters for a dispute over a prestigious new London building, the Arrow, which has developed structural cracks. Before the insurance company will pay out, it has to be determined how the error arose: was it due to the architects who designed the building, to the construction engineers, or some other cause?
As Trish is working through the mathematics of the engineers' calculations, a task she relishes, she is visited by Sam Foundling, a well-known sculptor. Trish is an admirer of Sam's work, even having previously bought a piece, without realising until his visit that he is an old client. Years ago, when Sam was 12, Trish helped him escape his abusive foster parents. Because he had been abandoned at a hospital entrance when a baby, and because of his hatred for his foster parents, Sam has in the interim changed his name to Foundling, hence Trish had no idea that the sculptor she admires is the same man she helped as a boy.
As an adult, Sam is constantly on an emotional tight fuse, and although distraught that Trish doesn't remember him, goes on to reveal why he has come to see her: he has received a letter from his birth mother, currently in Holloway prison, who wants to make contact with her long-lost son. Trish advises Sam as best she can, promising to find out more about the woman and her motives. It isn't long before Trish hears that Sam's wife Cecilia, whom Trish knows professionally as part of the consortium of legal counsel for the firms trying to reach a deal on the Arrow debacle, was killed that same morning, and that Sam is the prime suspect.
Before she died, Cecilia had told Trish that coincidences made her uneasy. A GREATER EVIL is full of such connections – every character seems to know every other character by at least two independent methods. The chief police officer investigating the crime is Trish's friend Caro – but their very different views on the identity of the criminal soon cause a breakdown in their relationship. Trish's domestic life is similarly complicated: her lover is George, a senior partner of another law firm, who is himself suffering from office politics resulting from Trish's actions in the Arrow case, as the two firms are representing different interested parties. Trish's young half-brother David lives with her: he and Trish share a traumatic past that has clearly featured in previous books. The dead woman's mother, Gina, is a high-court judge whom Trish knows and respects.
Everyone except Trish thinks Sam killed his wife in a fit of temper. Trish's sense of past loyalty to Sam, and her guilt at her earlier forgetfulness, make her determined to prove his innocence. Her tenacity begins to reveal yet more coincidences: first she identifies an old fiancé of Cecilia's who is also involved in the Arrow negotiations; second, she discovers the story of Cecilia's father and his possible involvement; and third, as Trish digs yet further into the architect's mathematics with a bullied colleague of the dead woman, she begins to wonder what Cecilia had found out, and whether in fact she was silenced in the most final way possible for purely financial motives.
Packed full of plot, the book is a racy, bracing read. I thoroughly enjoyed it. I thought some aspects were a bit throw-away, for example the genetic research described seemed to me to be an over-simplistic extrapolation from the laboratory to behaviour, and the sheer number of connections were too many for me to find believable. And although Caro is subject to police office politics, I found it strange that she should so emphatically reject every piece of evidence and every alternative suggestion Trish puts to her throughout the book, until very near the end – the two women have previously been through various ordeals together which have supposedly cemented their friendship. Yet the core of the book is strong, particularly as the initially unsympathetic Sam gradually learns to cope with adversity and life's challenges. The reader comes to respect his uncompromising if abrasive nature, and its change to something softer as he rediscovers his lost talent, together with a new optimism.