THE TWILIGHT TIME is an assured, seemingly authentic, noir-laden police procedural, set in Glasgow. The author is an ex-police officer, and this is her first novel. I'm impressed.
Sergeant Anna Cameron arrives to take charge of the "Fixit" squad, a fast-response team assigned to deal with assorted street crime: mainly car and shop theft, vandalism, muggings and, along "the Drag", drug addiction and prostitution. Anna has only a few constables under her command so the team is overwhelmed, regularly working overtime and with nowhere near enough cells, meaning they have to ascribe a pecking order to the crimes they choose to deal with. Anna's boss, Rankin, whose name is possibly a nod towards a famous Scottish crime novelist, insists that the Drag is regularly cleaned out. Anna's team, a mix of the lazy and the insubordinate, prove hard for her, a middle-class graduate who wears expensive beige and has a beautiful hair cut, to control as they regularly mock her and make insinuating remarks.
Anna's personal life is a bit of a mess, to say the least. Her father died when she was young; her mother remarried and now lives in Spain, playing golf and ignoring her daughter. Anna is having an affair with an absent, very married, senior officer, who sounds utterly ghastly. She also discovers that her ex-love Jamie, with whom she had an affair while they were cadets, is not only married to the woman he dumped Anna for and has had a baby with her, but is also one of the constables under her command. Anna does a good, professional job, trying to sort out the detritus of crime fuelled by drink, drugs, poverty and boredom. Some of these scenes provide telling details of what it really must be like for the front-line police to try to keep society civilised in overwhelmingly degrading and sickening circumstances without sinking down into the mire – one scene in which Anna has to find a jailed prostitute's hidden stash of roll-ups is nauseatingly telling. How can the police stay above all of this squalor? Many of them cannot, and resort to insensitivity and worse.
Anna's main concern is to apprehend someone who is attacking prostitutes and slashing their faces. At the same time, she meets an elderly Polish man who has been subjected to racial abuse. When the man is found dead, Anna takes it hard. Then, on night duty, she is attacked, presumably by the slasher, and pushed downstairs. She saves her colleague Jamie's life (probably) in the process, but is badly injured and is hospitalised.
The book slightly loses track in this middle section, in which Anna goes to pieces and embarks on an off-the-record investigation into the Polish man's death, using Jamie's wife Cath, Anna's ex-rival and an ex-police constable herself, to help her. Things soon go wrong and Anna is up for disciplinary action. Jamie and she are tempted to rekindle their relationship while Cath struggles with weight problems, post-natal depression and the sheer exhaustion of looking after a baby while her husband is out drinking at nights and is often unsympathetic to her woes.
Despite the rather busy and less realistic plot in the last third of the novel, I thoroughly enjoyed this book and like the character of Anna very much. She is no heroine, she's a normal person who has entered a profession where far too much is expected in terms of crippling workload and ghastly situations that need cleaning up; she's existing in a culture where mockery and prejudice are rampant; and she has little emotional support. The author also takes an interesting angle in exploring various emotional minefields that exist between Cath and Anna (and to a lesser extent, Jamie. This book is not sympathetic to men, on the whole).
In the end, Anna pretty much muddles through, and not only is there a believable solution of sorts to more than one of the criminal scenarios that have gone before, but she seems to have manoeuvred herself into a reasonably good career position for the future. This book certainly deserves its cover endorsement from Kate Atkinson: "I loved it. A great original character and the plot fairly whizzes along".