H.R.F. Keating wrote the book on crime fiction (several, actually, including his 1991 text Writing Crime Fiction
) and has, over time, built a thoroughbred stable of police detectives. With The Hard Detective
's Harriet Martens, the stable grows by one memorable, and memorably unpleasant, entrant.
Detective Chief Inspector Martens doesn't care for criminals, whether truants or axe-wielding thugs, nor does she suffer her less-than-perfect underlings gladly. She does, however, care about the quality of life in Greater Birchester, and she happily hobbles, via her Gestapoesque yet successful "Stop the Rot" campaign, all who go astray. And all's well in Greater B. until Patrol Constable "Titty" Titmuss comes down with a case of knife-in-the-back. A blue-clad hint that the underworld has had enough of "Stop the Rot"? Plausible, until another constable, momentarily blinded, succumbs to the wheels of a city bus, and the loathsome Detective Superintendent "Froggy" Froggott is stabbed through the mouth and relieved of a tooth.
It's soon clear to those with eyes that a serial killer fond of biblical verse is strolling through Exodus 21:23 and taking the coppers with him. Knowing full well who the smiter is, Martens races her prey to a better-than-expected denouement.
It's a testament to Keating's skill that The Hard Detective is as entertaining as it is, even though it's not his best. Newcomers might want to start with the Ghote series opener, 1964's The Perfect Murder. That said, it just may be that veteran readers have come to expect ever greater things from the man who wrote the book. --Michael Hudson
From Publishers Weekly
Contemporary British police procedural meets old-fashioned puzzle mystery in this slick, streamlined effort from veteran Edgar-winner Keating (The Bad Detective, The Soft Detective, etc.). Detective Chief Inspector Harriet Martens has put Greater Birchester's criminal element on notice with her tough "Stop the Rot" campaign. Now she faces a far greater challenge: tracking down the fiend who's taken to murdering police officers in accordance with the "eye for eye, tooth for tooth" passage from Exodus. Though she identifies the killer fairly early on, the hard detective cannot prevent further deaths, all contrived to fit the biblical verse. The murder motive, once revealed, becomes simply a given. In the end Harriet deliberately puts herself at risk, daring the crazed killer to come after her "stripe for stripe," that is, with a whip. You can bet that she'll get a taste of the lash that she might otherwise have avoided by taking some basic security precautions. (Picking up the suspect, of whom the police have a good description, at one of the city's sex shops that sell whips might have been worth a try, too.) A formulaic plot and minimal characterization allow Keating to focus on the essentials of crime and detection. Harriet's spirited exchanges with psychologist Dr. Peter "Smellyfeet" Scholl (on the treatment of criminals) and with tabloid reporter Tim Patterson (on the role of the press) lend some welcome texture to a shallow if compelling entertainment. (May)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.