Friday, January 27, 2012

Review of The Dead Detective by William Heffernan (Akashic Books, 2010)

When he was ten years old, Harry Doyle and his brother Jimmy were drugged by their mother and left in a garage with car engine running. Both were clinically dead when the Tampa police broke open the door after a neighbour had called the alarm. Harry was resuscitated, but Jimmy didn’t survive. Twenty years later and Harry is a homicide detective whose colleagues believe that because of his past he can talk to the dead. That supposed talent is called on when local beauty, ex-teacher and convicted child abuser, Darlene Beckett is found murdered, her throat cut, the word ‘evil’ carved into her forehead. Assigned a new partner, the feisty Vicky, Doyle starts to investigate, soon discovering another body. Two conflicting bodies of evidence start to emerge, one pointing to a local evangelical church, the other to one of Harry’s colleagues. To add to Harry’s worries, his mother is due for parole and he’s determined that she stays behind bars.

I was attracted to this book by the title and the premise that Harry shared some bond with the dead through his own death. That angle and Harry’s feelings for his mother are quite well developed. The rest of the story is a pretty straight up and down police procedural focusing on the hunt for an unstable serial killer. The characterisation is quite nicely realised, but the characters are cookie-cut from the genre’s tropes - Harry has a reputation as being a brilliant detective, a tough guy with hang-ups, who is happy to skirt around proper procedure (think Harry Bosch or Rebus); Vicky is the hyper-sensitive female cop with a large chip on her shoulder; the Church minister is mainly concerned with reputation and growing his flock and has a wayward son who has been trouble with the law, etc. Whilst Heffernan lays down a series of red herrings, the plot is fairly mundane and to a seasoned crime fiction reader the identity of the killer is fairly obvious a good distance from the end of the book. That all said, the story is well told and Harry Doyle is worth spending some time with.

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