DI Jack Carrigan is a maverick loner, unpopular with both his superiors and his junior colleagues in the Met because of his habit not only of going his own way in his own investigations, but also in taking home with him the work-in-progress of other detectives’ cases – providing unwanted advice. In a variant on this well-worn theme, the reader sees him as a man haunted by a traumatic event in his past when he visited Uganda with two university friends immediately after graduating. Only two of the three men returned; whatever happened in Africa has affected them ever since.
Another of Carrigan’s habits that makes him unpopular with colleagues is that he is expert at being the first detective at a crime scene when the uniformed branch put out a call, hence being able to run the subsequent case. His eagerness brings him to a run-down block of flats in Bayswater, where he eventually discovers the horribly murdered body of one of the residents, a young woman.
Carrigan’s immediate superior, Superintendent Branch, calls upon DC Geneva Miller, previously busted down a rank in a disciplinary action. He tells her that in return for seconding her to Carrigan’s investigation to keep an eye on him and report back, he will reinstate her to the rank of Sergeant. Reluctantly, she agrees. Geneva is a young woman with her own demons: a Czech dissident poet for a mother who strongly disapproves of her daughter’s profession; a broken marriage; and a neurotic tendency to scratch her arms and hands to produce sores.
These two obsessives, Carrigan and Miller, together with Carrigan’s relatively unfriendly team, pursue the case with vigour, soon discovering that the victim was a student at the London School of African and Oriental studies who was writing a thesis on the rise of rebel groups in her native Uganda, documenting individuals’ inevitable brutalization and cruel practices. The tension builds up: the powers that be at the Met want the crime classified as a sex attack; Miller is convinced that there is a political angle but finds both Carrigan and Branch reluctant to listen to her.
A Dark Redemption is at its strongest in the depiction of the Ugandan community in London; in the non-judgemental yet up-front accounts of suffering and terror in Uganda; and in the nascent friendship between the two protagonists as their mutual suspicion gradually eases. Both characters have plenty of undeveloped back-story that no doubt will be revealed in more detail in future books in the series. The novel is less strong in its plot, which depends too much on the detectives being blocked in their enquiries or on them not being given information because of interference from government and embassy officials.
Carrigan’s and Miller’s largely separate unravelling of the secrets about the dead woman and her possible relationship with other Ugandans in London is well-conveyed – I particularly liked the interview with her thesis advisor. But it is not a stretch to guess who is behind the crimes, which all comes out in rather a weak climax. I would have enjoyed this book much more despite some plot weaknesses and other (minor but irritating) inconsistencies if it had not resorted to unnecessarily graphic descriptions of horrific murder and torture, in particular of the young woman who is at the centre of the case. The book could have provided the relevant information and packed the same emotional punch without the evilly gruesome details.
Other (pretty much 100 % positive) reviews of A Dark Redemption: Reactions to Reading, The Game’s Afoot, It’s a Crime! and Bookgeeks (Mike Stafford), where you can also read an interview with the author.