Tooth and Claw, by Nigel McCrery

 

TOOTH AND CLAW is the second in the series about DCI Mark Lapslie, begun in the rather good "Agatha Christie noir" novel CORE OF EVIL (aka STILL WATERS). As might be expected from the author's credentials as an ex-policeman and highly successful TV scriptwriter, both books are smoothly written, with the action occurring at a fast pace.

As TOOTH AND CLAW opens, Lapslie is living alone in an isolated cottage in Essex. He suffers from synaesthesia, a psychological condition in which the senses get mixed up. In Lapslie's case, he experiences sounds as tastes, which makes his life so intolerable that he has had to leave his wife and young children, and take permanent sick leave from his job, living as far as possible in a silent environment.

His peace is soon disturbed. The high-profile murder of a beautiful TV newsreader results in Lapslie being ordered back to work to run the case. The reader, unlike Lapslie, knows that Catherine Charnaud has been tortured to death by Carl Whittley, a young man who is mentally very disturbed. Carl's mother is perhaps one of the most heartless characters I've read about for some time, as she has abandoned her son and invalid husband for her own career and, it is hinted, a lover. Carl is left to look after his father so is unable to find a job. Having an unhealthy obsession with death and decay, and with too much time on his hands but no money, Carl has developed some disgusting hobbies – which neither of his self-obsessed parents has any time to notice.

While Lapslie is struggling to investigate Catherine's death despite his disability, a bomb explodes at Braintree station at the height of the morning commuter rush; a man is killed. Again, Lapslie is sent to investigate, but his condition leads him to an extraordinary conclusion about the two cases. Another clever twist in the story occurs when the police call in a profiler to help them with the Catherine case, about a hundred pages in. Unfortunately, because events move too fast, this twist is not followed right through to the intriguing scenario that it immediately suggests, which would have been a distinctive course for the novel to have taken.

Although this book is a diverting read, for my taste it contained unnecessary details of torture (including, I warn, of animals) and pathology. I think the novel is highly commercial, somewhat slick, and driven by visual effects, hence it will make a good TV drama. But for my taste as a reader, I'd prefer to know more about the potentially interesting character of Lapslie, his colleague Emma, his soon-to-be-ex wife and children, and the cases he solves, with less time being spent on the gruesome details of Carl's warped cruelty, various murders, their after-effects, and post-mortems.

Review first published at Euro Crime, January 2010.

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