Book review: Fallen Idols by Neil White

Fallen Idols
by Neil White
Avon, 2007 (Kindle edition)

Billed as the first in a series featuring detective constable Laura McGanity of the Met, Fallen Idols opens with the shooting of a world-famous footballer on the streets of London. Laura is one of the detectives assigned to the case, and despite her back-biting colleagues soon realises that the most likely place for the killer to have hidden is in the upper floors of one of the buildings opposite. When the police find the correct room, they discover two other bodies, indicating that the crime was premeditated.

Jack Garrrett is a freelance journalist who lives round the corner so is out having a drink when the crime occurs. Recognising the famous victim, Jack collects statements from various witnesses in the hope of selling a feature story to one of the national papers. He’s delighted when he realises Laura is on the investigative team, as they are acquaintances from previous cases and he’s developed quite a liking for her. Soon the two of them have agreed to share information in an attempt to find the perpetrator quickly.

So far, so good. Unfortunately for me, however, the plot began to spin out of control at this point. Not only does he witness the crime and know one of the investigators, but Jack turns out to be the son of an ex-footballer and retired cop who lives in a small Lancashire town. Before too long it is clear that the current case is closely linked to a past event in this very town. And there’s more: Jack’s father turns out to be closely involved in it via not one but both of his former professions. A coincidence or two is acceptable in a crime novel but for me this many was pushing it too far.

The rest of the book continues in similar vein. It is hard to provide justification for my views without providing spoilers, but I’ll try. Laura soon takes a back seat in the investigation for professional reasons and becomes a mere sidekick to Jack, alternating between gasping in admiration or having to be won over to yet another “don’t tell anyone” lead of Jack’s. This is not only somewhat incredible but a pity as she’s a potentially interesting character. Similarly, we are expected to believe that Jack’s father and his then-colleague kept quiet for years about a pivotal event for brushed-over reasons – especially puzzling in the case of Jack’s father. Mid-way through the book we are introduced to an unpleasant local DI and an American hit-man who is so clunky as to be risible. Several other characters pop into the novel in the middle, including a pair of cops, the local newspaper editor, and a cub reporter who is very keen on Jack. These characters serve to spin out the book somewhat but are peripheral.

Jack has been portrayed as a hungry freelance journalist desperate for a story, but he is so laid back about never filing any copy anywhere that I was amazed. When he gets to his home town to follow up his main lead, he omits to follow even the most cursory investigation as he doesn’t attempt to contact or interview the families and friends of those involved in an old crime. If he had done so, there would not have been the need for various scenes involving chainsaws, shooting intruders, stabbing someone with shards of glass, etc. The most obvious of actions is ignored by someone’s defence lawyer, and the Lancashire police don’t keep records of old crimes. Finally, the criminal’s actions are plain daft. If you’re annoyed at someone, then why go to such elaborate means to attack people who have nothing to do with why? And, in one of the various “protagonist in peril” climaxes, why be persuaded to desist by a rationale that you had ignored on previous occasions? And so on.

While the novel is a racy read, and I did get to the end of it, I had basically lost interest in it by about half way through, finding the coincidences and people’s actions too incredible to be gripping. As a light read, the book is fine, and the identity of the criminal might come as a surprise to some readers. If you want an undemanding read with plenty of running around but without too much reasoning, then this is a book for you. If you prefer a crime story with more depth and realism, then sadly this one is not it, despite its promising start and one or two neat jabs at today’s celebrity culture.

I purchased this novel as part of an Amazon Kindle promotion.

About the book at the author’s website, with quotations from admiring reviews, including Euro Crime, which calls it a “masterpiece”, so don’t necessarily take my word for it!

This post is published at http://petronatwo.wordpress.com. If you are reading it at another site then it has been stolen and/or used entirely without permission.