Having enjoyed the recent addition of England's Simon Beckett's to the intensely crowded North American forensic pathology thriller field, I was looking forward to another rural mystery with that uniquely British cultural flavour. Nigel McCrery set his debut novel, SILENT WITNESS, in East Anglia where pathologist Samantha Ryan assists the local constabulary in the hunt for a serial killer that seems to be dabbling in the occult. Not merely dispatched with mundane work-a-day strangulation, the first two victims, Mark James and Frances Purves, were garrotted and dumped in bizarre settings with a garland of ivy tied around their wrists and an upside down cross carved into their bodies.
The clues all seem to lead in only one direction - to club owner, Sebastian Bird, who was acquainted with both victims and seems to have had the requisite motive, means and opportunity for each case. But, and this is terribly obvious, while Superintendent Harriet Farmer would have been content to lock Bird up, toss away the key and call it a day, pathologist Samantha Ryan is unconvinced that Bird is their man and therein lies the story line.
Sadly, betwixt the idea and the execution lies a vast gulf. The writing and characterization are pedestrian and uninteresting. The science behind the forensics is dull and distinctly uninformative. While I wouldn't go quite so far as to suggest that it was an utter waste of precious reading time, I will say that I found SILENT WITNESS to be derivative and a weak alternative to the vast array of other choices in the genre. Samantha Ryan, who ought to have leaped off the page as a character, was a prissy, emotionless cold fish. Even when she placed herself in harm's way, I didn't feel it was out of conviction, courage or over-estimated bravado. It seemed more that she simply didn't have the wit to recognize that she was stepping over some very clearly dangerous or irresponsible lines.
I may give the series one more try to see if it improves at all but on the basis of this single novel, I'm withholding recommendation.
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Paul Weiss (cpw1952)
A modern day dilettante with widely varied eclectic interests. A dabbler in muchbut grandmaster of none - wilderness camping in all four seasons, hiking, canoeing, world travel,philately, … more
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Based on an Edgar-nominated A&E Mystery Movie, this slick debut by a former policeman delivers an adept splicing of the choicer elements of Patricia Cornwall's Kay Scarpetta books and Lynda Laplante's Prime Suspect TV movies with a smaller helping of P.D. James thrown in for good measure. Set in East Anglia and featuring forensic pathologist Samantha Ryan, McCrery's tale relies on both police and medical detailing in the hunt for a multiple killer. Two corpses turn up in odd, secluded places with upside-down crosses carved into the bodies and with garlands of a rare ivy nearby. Both victims, Mark James and Frances Purves, were friends of Bird, a nightclub owner with an interest in witchcraft. Bird's fingerprints are found in Purves's car, and the cord from the inside of his club's door chime is found to be the garroting weapon. An open and shut case? Detective Harriet Farmer is clearly convinced. Ryan naturally isn't so sure. Although some readers will likely find the proceedings a little too derivative, most will be engrossed by what is an expertly realized work from start to finish. Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.