I began this book with high hopes: the cover blurb sounded interesting, the premise of a female coroner-investigator was intriguing, and the book didn't seem to have been a "best-seller" anywhere (the words "best-seller" being a tip-off to mainstream blandness and predictability). Plus, I was really in the market for a good, new voice on the British police-procedural scene. I've read all the books by my current faves, so until they start writing faster, I'm always on the lookout for fresh meat. Thus I was primed to like Priscilla Masters.
Alas. My first Priscilla Masters novel will probably be my last. I heard alarm bells on the opening page, when the narrator seemed to like one ponderous, trite line so well ("You cannot tame nature") that she followed it almost immediately with another ("You cannot contain nature"). But I tried not to listen to the alarms because, as I said, I wanted to find a compelling new writer, and besides, it's not fair to dismiss a story based on a couple of cliches. So I pressed on, keeping up my optimism even while picking a few more nits (such as a police surgeon in her 50s being described as "elderly").
By the middle of the book, though, I had reluctantly given up hope. If style is not Masters' strength, neither is plot. This one is as leaky, debris-filled, and over-the-top as the flooding river Severn with which the novel opens. I was willing to accept (sort of) that the cops would let the coroner muscle into their investigations the way our heroine Martha does, since what do I know from coroners? Maybe they *do* call up senior detectives and offer suggestions on how to investigate a major case. Maybe they *do* carry on their own undercover operations without telling anyone or without worrying whether their actions might eventually compromise a trial. For all I know, the cops might even allow the coroner to watch them interrogate suspects, the way they do here.
But would the cops really let the coroner *conduct* the interrogations of major suspects in a case where guilt (let alone conviction) is by no means assured -- and where the cops haven't even had a chance to investigate the coroner's seemingly off-the-wall murder theory? Wouldn't a defense attorney go to town over this sort of irregularity?
Well, maybe the legal system works this way in Shrewsbury. And even if it doesn't, no one ever said that a detective novel had to be totally factually accurate to be good. But it does have to be psychologically accurate to be good, and this book isn't. Like a previous Amazon reviewer, I was baffled by Martha's non-response to being stalked (she has only a few fleeting moments of concern, despite living alone with her two pre-teens in a significantly isolated house). And as for the solution to the murders. . .I suppose it's possible that people might think and act in this way, but before I can be convinced, I need a lot more psychological exploration of character than this book provides (or at least more of the authorial legerdemain that allows a writer to pull off an implausible premise.) Paging Patricia Highsmith. . .