In Veale’s debut procedural thriller, a burned and beaten body is found in the wreckage of a devastating fire at a U.K. college.
DCI Jonny Broadly and DS Graeme “Kindley” Kindleyside are working a robbery case when they hear that a local college is engulfed in flames. An arson investigation suggests negligence, but teacher Phillip Henry Blakeridge is found dead on-site with indications of head trauma. The police find a drug connection: Blakeridge dabbled in illicit substances, and Broadly thinks a perturbed drug supplier was driving the Range Rover that recently tried to run Broadly’s Saab off the road. Blakeridge’s numerous affairs, both male and female, leave the coppers with a lengthy list of suspects. Broadly and Kindley whittle down the list, which comprises mostly people at the college, and hope to find damning evidence against a killer. The novel features a scrupulous DCI who relentlessly questions suspects until an alibi is verified or debunked, and it’s no surprise when one of the accused charges Broadly with harassment. The leisurely but sturdy investigation is hobbled by the ongoing and decidedly less engaging case involving a trio of robbed post offices. Flashbacks to Broadly’s time in college likewise sideline the murder mystery and don’t reveal much about the DCI’s personal life. The first-person narrator (in these flashback scenes only) isn’t Broadly, who is temporarily relegated to a supporting role. While readers follow the protagonist down a series of dead ends, the story accumulates many viable suspects, and readers won’t easily pinpoint the guilty party. The latter half picks up considerably once the robberies are all but solved and the coppers focus solely on the murder; they even, rather appropriately, establish the “Murder HQ” at the college’s old gym. Structural issues, mostly characters’ dialogue bunched into single paragraphs, are annoying but don’t hamper the story. The ending lacks some resolution for all that’s occurred, including a second murder, but a wrap-up acknowledges that a sequel may be in the offing.
A subdued but effective thriller that
provides an ideal starting point for its exemplary protagonist.