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Envy the Dead
by Iain McDowall

Release Date: 5th Mar 2009
Publisher: Piatkus
ISBN: 978 0 7499 0875 1
RRP: £19.99

Average Customer Rating: 
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Sixth in the series featuring police duo Jacobson and Kerr...

Envy the Dead plants you in the troubled era of the Miner’s Strike. It’s 1984 and nineteen-year-old Martin Grove has found himself back near his hometown after hitchhiking away from London. When a beautiful woman stops her MG and offers him a lift – and the prospect of a party and a free place to crash – Martin is only too happy to accept. Claire Oldham is a small-time leader of a local group of activists, intent on promoting their anti-nuclear message via fly poster and protest. Myrtle Cottage is their “base of operations”. A love triangle ensues, a protest goes awry, Claire is unceremoniously murdered and Martin Grove is fitted up by the local plod.

Two decades and a quashed sentence later and Grove is a free man. After five years flying under the radar though, Grove is forced back into the limelight when his body is found at his home; a single bullet wound through the head and his tongue neatly severed. Almost immediately, a second victim is discovered, same MO and disturbingly, in the same location as that of Claire Oldham all those years ago. It seems that in order to uncover the present-day killer, Jacobson and Kerr will have to unravel the mystery of Grove.

Envy the Dead likes its red herrings; you get the feeling that you are constantly being sent to fish and in my own churlishness, I refused to swallow the bait, preferring to simply let the plot wash over me. At least McDowall accurately depicts the profligate leads and processes that our beleaguered police force undertakes; most of it leading nowhere. Kerr is an unlikeable so-and-so, not only because of his marital infidelity, but because even with his lover he couldn’t feign any interest in anything other than himself and his work. Jacobson, equally driven, is plagued by memories of police corruption and is determined to be one of the “good guys”. In this he succeeds, but at the expense of coming across as mildly conceited and annoying. Do not get me started on the spate of “old Son’s” that pepper his speech like he is afflicted with a form of condescending Tourettes.

McDowall’s evocation of England under Maggie Thatcher necessarily focuses entirely on the elemental anarchy, forgoes any rose-tinted sentimentality and draws a complex web around its central character (Grove). The likeability of Kerr and Jacobson is questionable, but in some respects it is refreshing not to like the good guys; being on the good side shouldn’t automatically make one liked. You admire the thoroughness and dedication to the job and somehow that is enough. A good, escapist book; definitely trading on the darker side of life.

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