26 September 2023

Murder Mile

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Reviewed by Rama Gaind.

By Lynda La Plante, Zaffre, $32.99.

The setting is 1979 London, where the winter is not only long, but the atmosphere is charged and oozes unrest. It’s February and ‘The Winter of Discontent’ has led to economic chaos and widespread strikes across Britain.

The police are under pressure to find a frightening killer. There have been four brutal murders. There’s also an economic crisis with heaps of strikes, power cuts and streets brimming with stinking, uncollected rubbish.

From the doyenne of crime fiction comes Murder Mile, and it’s obvious to see Lynda’s strong point is very much in her character formation and the presentation of a complex but tautly stringed plot.

Jane Tennison, now a Detective Sergeant, has been posted to Peckham CID, one of London’s toughest areas. The garbage piles up – as does the body count.

There are no suspects and the manner of death is different in each case. The only link between the two victims is the location of the bodies, found within a short distance of each other near Rye Lane in Peckham. Three days later another murder occurs in the same area. Press headlines scream that a serial killer is loose on ‘Murder Mile’ and that police incompetence is hampering the investigation.

Working long, sleepless hours, Jane is under immense pressure to catch the killer before there’s another attack. What she uncovers leaves doubts in her own mind.

Tennison’s character is strong, all the time more street-wise, with additional confidence. Intuition and superior intellect come to the fore. She takes a solid hold and has no hesitation in speaking her mind. There’s also an attractive susceptibility and diffidence that makes her profoundly and convincingly human.

It’s a murder hunt that relies on good old-fashioned detective work, instead of modern technology aids like the mobile and Internet. The plot moves rapidly, sprinkled with captivating police and forensic detailing.

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