Culture Street

By Eva Meland

As one of the grand dames of crime fiction, Lynda la Plante has written dozens of books as well as TV series such as Prime Suspect, which earned her an Emmy award. She received an OBE in 2008 and is the first non-scientist to be inducted into the professional body Forensic Science Society as an Honorary Fellow, in recognition of the accuracy with which she portrays forensic science in her work. Clearly, she is a writer who knows her stuff.

In Wrongful Death we are back on familiar territory at the MET (London Metropolitan Police). DCI Anna Travis has been asked by her boss, James Langton, to review a cold case involving the suicide of a nightclub owner six months previously. Although it seemed cut and dried at the time, an informant who is awaiting trial for armed robbery claims that it was not suicide, but murder. While the team is unenthusiastic and the case does not seem to warrant the involvement of such senior officers, taking the case means that Anna Travis and her team have the opportunity to move into brand new offices equipped with all the latest electronic gadgetry.

Anna Travis also has a personal opportunity, namely to travel to the US with James Langton to take part in a prestigious training course run by the FBI. In order to provide assistance during her absence, an FBI agent named Jessie Dewar has been assigned to the case and it falls to Anna to induct her into the ways of the MET. The clash between the brash and know-it-all Dewar and the very English team provides for some very amusing interludes in the book. Dewar sees skeletons in every cupboard and has determined who the killer is before the investigation has barely started. Her ‘psychobabble’ does not go down well, and when she dares to cast aspersions on the competence of the original investigation the team’s defences are immediately raised. To complicate matters, the investigation places the spotlight on a family that is well connected and whose matriarch pulls every string to get Anna and her team into trouble and off their backs.

Bit by bit the pieces of the puzzle unfold, and when Travis and Langdon travel to the US for the FBI course, further evidence is unravelled. Here, Langdon gets involved in an attempt to capture a dangerous criminal from his past.

La Plante knows how to write a page-turner and to work the human interest angle by weaving in the personal stories of the protagonists. There is much history between Travis and Langdon. She carries the burden of guilt that she may have inadvertently cut short his career by information that she revealed to the odious Commissioner Walters. We are let into the lonely world of police officers that are married to the job, the pain of loss and broken relationships and the importance of the bonds of friendship and respect between colleagues. There is of course a little bit of romance as well, and Anna has the chance to finally find a soul-mate to replace the fiancé she lost. But will she jump?

When the full picture is finally revealed, it is much bigger than anyone could have guessed at the beginning. A lot of the action is progressed via dialogue, which La Plante writes superbly. This is an unpretentious page-turner that makes for an ideal holiday read. As the loose ends of the case are tidied up, the finale feels just a little bit too convenient. But we are left wanting to know more about what happens to the protagonists in their personal lives. With such a prolific author as La Plante, chances are we won’t have to wait too long.

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