Core of Evil, by Nigel McCrery

CORE OF EVIL is a book that slips down a treat. It's easy to read over a couple of hours, mashing up the traditional British detective novel (think Agatha Christie) with the modern police procedural.

It seems obligatory in crime novels for protagonists to have a distinguishing feature that makes them distinctive, and DCI Mark Lapslie is certainly that. He suffers from synaesthesia, an unusual neurological condition in which the senses are mixed up. He can't drive while music is playing, after an occasion when listening to a Beatles song filled his mouth with the taste of rotting meat and nearly made him have an accident. His new partner, DS Emma Bradbury, is either lemon or grapefruit, depending on her mood and how truthful she's being. More seriously, his condition has caused the break-up of his marriage (because he cannot stand the noise his children make) and he's on long-term sick leave (because the open-plan office and banter between colleagues makes him constantly taste blood).

This background is provided with a light, deft touch that never slows the plot, as the book opens with Lapslie being called back to work to investigate a strange death. A fatal car accident has unearthed a dead body in a forest in the southern England – a body that has lain undiscovered for almost a year. Pretty soon it is evident that the death was unnatural, so a murder hunt begins. The victim, an elderly woman, is identified by her false teeth, but puzzling facts soon emerge that mean she cannot be what she seems. Lapslie finds himself constantly impeded while investigating the crime: he can't get resources and his boss seems to be reluctant to support him. Is this connected with the mysterious black Lexus that seems to be tailing him?

The story is also told from the perspective of Daisy, the woman whom we suspect may have disposed of the body. Daisy is living in a small seaside town that seems to belong to another era, in which ironmongers still exist and hotels offer tea made from leaves instead of bags. She's on the lookout for a lonely old lady to befriend – for sinister reasons, we assume. The reader gradually learns more about Daisy's past and her misdeeds, as Lapslie doggedly follows the few leads he has and closes in on her.

On one level this book is rather silly, especially at the end when all is revealed – the subplot involving the fictional Ministry of Justice is exceptionally daft when Lapslie uncovers what's going on, but even the main plot stretches credibility. Nevertheless, if you take this book in the spirit it is written, you'll enjoy it – the story is very well told in a brisk and amiable style. The characters, even minor ones, are interesting individuals and the plot, although not easy to take seriously and with various loose ends and undeveloped dollops here and there, is funny in a gruesome kind of way. Nigel McCrery is a very successful writer of TV series, and this is evident in CORE OF EVIL, which would make an excellent TV film – black comedy in which the black is a very dark shade indeed.

NB. This book was first published in hardback under the title of STILL WATERS.

Review first published at Euro Crime, November 2009.

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This entry was posted in Books, Crime fiction, England, Eurocrime, Europe, Police procedural, Psychology, Series and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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