Last week I gave up on a new crime novel that I had been assured by one eminent critic was absolutely superb. I’d tried the first book by this particular writer (no names, no pack drill because as you might already have sussed, I don’t have anything complementary to say about them) and given up on it in despair. However, given the praise that was being lavished on number two, I thought I’d better have a second go. I made it through all of three chapters before deciding that life was just too short and anyway why subject myself to that sort of pain. And painful it was because the writing was full of clichés at just about every level.
Fortunately, I then turned to the second novel by Kate Rhodes in her series featuring psychologist Alice Quentin, A Killing of Angels, which is just about as far from that disastrous experience as it is possible to be. Rhodes’ first two published works were collections of poetry and her love of and ability to mould language shows on every page. As does her erudition. Her first novel, Crossbones Yard, takes Alice down onto the banks of the Thames where she draws comparison between what can be seen there today and the prints that Whistler made of the same area and published in 1871. It just so happened that on the very day I was reading that I had been looking at one of those selfsame prints. It was a lovely moment of serendipity.
Rhodes can sum up a character of a situation in a single well chosen word. Here she is describing one of the clients of a high class prostitute being observed by Alice towards the end of a particularly nasty case that she has been called in to advise the police on.
A careworn businessman marched up the steps at eight o’clock. He looked like he worked all day at the Treasury, balancing important sums.
It’s all in that last word, isn’t it? Every ounce of the disdain she has encouraged us to feel about the denizens of the Square Mile, every last inch of the man’s own misplaced sense of importance, is captured in that one word, sums. It’s simply perfect.
Why is Alice spying on the clients of a highly paid call-girl? Well, someone is going around killing bankers and people associated with them. No shortage of suspects there then you might be forgiven for thinking. But these are all associated with one particular bank, Angel Bank (a misnomer if ever there was one) and as each of the victims is found with a picture of an angel and a sprinkling of white feathers it does seem fairly obvious that this culprit is someone with a specific grudge against one particular institution.
Alice is not yet recovered from the trauma of the Crossbones Yard investigation and still trying desperately to do something to help her brother, Will, whose mental health is parlous but who refuses to take the medication that might keep him on a stable plain. So, when the hapless detective Don Burns seeks her aid again she is less than happy to offer assistance but as she owes him a favour feels she can’t really say no. Saying yes, however, brings even more problems than their previous encounter and the situation is not helped by rivalry within police ranks. Burns does have a habit (albeit unintentional) of rubbing his colleagues up the wrong way.
One of the things I like most about Rhodes’ work is her love of London and the warmth with which she portrays it. In that she is not unlike Laura Wilson, whose novel, The Riot I wrote about last week. There is something about the city that seems to bring out the best in those authors who clearly love it and it shines again in this book.
If Rhodes is a new name to you then I would suggest that you begin with the first in the series. If you’ve read Crossbones Yard and are wondering whether to pick up this second instalment, I would say don’t hesitate.