Book Review: Our Lady of Pain by Elena Forbes

Our-lady-of-pain-mmp Our Lady of Pain

Elena Forbes

Quercus 2008 (review is of the UK paperback edition, 2009)

The second book about DI Mark Tartaglia is a jolly good read which I enjoyed far more than his debut outing in Die With Me. I had put off reading Our Lady of Pain for a while owing to its title, cover and "teaser" words, which I find less than inviting – as well as a slight ambivalence about the first novel (see my review). As it turns out, Our Lady of Pain is a classic police procedural with nothing to do with the picture (or teaser words). It isn't among the best crime novels I have read this year, but it is a good read, nonetheless.

Tartaglia is the grandson of Italian immigrants who settled in Edinburgh. He and his sister, the matchmaking Nicoletta, both live in London: she is a lecturer in Italian at London University; he is in charge of one of the murder squads based in Barnes, south-west London. He is single, rides a motorbike and is portrayed as very handsome and eligible. He’s called out to investigate the case of a woman who had been murdered while out running in Holland Park, and the bulk of the ensuing novel describes how he and his team carry out their work of interviewing witnesses, searching apartments and so on, to try to find the perpetrator – no easy task.

Rachel Tenison, the victim, was a loner, so it takes Tartaglia and his loyal sergeant Sam (short for Samantha) Donovan some time to find out much about her associates and her life.  At the start of their investigation, rather too much of the plot involves Tartaglia or Donovan having to re-interview witnesses who don’t seem to be entirely truthful, in order to get them to admit further details that they consider irrelevant to the investigation. I don’t find this a very satisfactory way of moving a plot along, but it is certainly better than the other genre standby of finding more bodies.

One of the unusual aspects of the case is the discovery of part of a poem by Swinburne on the body (hence the book’s title). This clue leads Tartaglia to a year-old, closed  investigation of the death of a woman who was a professor of English literature (including the works of Swinburne) at the university. Tartaglia and Donovan are convinced that the two cases must be related, but how? Their quest is complicated by the reluctance of the investigating officer, Simon Turner, to re-open the old case as it might make him and his recently deceased boss look bad if they failed to unearth any crucial information at the time. Turner reluctantly joins Tartaglia’s team for the purposes of combining the investigations; it is he who finds a crucial suspect, and Donovan who makes the link between the two cases.

Once the second case is uncovered, the pace of this novel picks up considerably. The author weaves in the social lives of the detectives and other police staff into her narrative, as well as a possible romantic diversion between Tartaglia and one of the witnesses to the Rachel Tenison case. There are a couple of twists to the tale, one of which I anticipated and the other I didn’t, but unfortunately the author did not resist repeating her “woman in peril” ending from the first book. The gradual realisation by a female character that she is on her own with a possible murderer is a cliché which renders the ending a bit flat and perfunctory. Another slightly disappointing aspect is that I did not feel that a great sense of location was conveyed, other than the occasional description of a traditional pub or a snowy park which could have been anywhere.

I don’t mean to quibble: this novel is a jolly good, solid police procedural with two characters, Tartaglia and Donovan, who are interesting and individual, if in need of development. I like the juxtaposition of the work and personal lives of the police, and will certainly read the next in this series. 

My thanks to the publisher for my copy of this book.

Read other reviews at: Curled up with a Good Book (very positive but gives away more of the plot than I do here); Curled up with a Good Book again (not so positive); Reviewing the Evidence (Sharon Wheeler), an excellent brief review which sums up perfectly in all ways my opinion of the book!; and Mysterious Reviews (positive).

Interview with the author upon publication of her first novel, Die With Me.

1 thought on “Book Review: Our Lady of Pain by Elena Forbes

  1. Margot Kinberg said…
    Maxine – Thanks, as always, for an excellent review. I have to say, I always enjoy a well-done police procedural, so it’s so nice that this one turned out to be a good ‘un. I’m going to have to look for this, as too many books billed as “police procedurals….” aren’t. I’m intrigued, too, by the element of the different cultures. An Italian immigrant family in London. That catches my attention. Even if bits of the novel fell flat for you, it soonds like a good read.

    Reply 02 November 2010 at 19:30

    Bernadette said…
    I must say the title of this one has put me off when I’ve seen it – both because it doesn’t exactly conjur happy images and because I had an English teacher who adored Swinburne’s poetry a bit too much for me to ever want to have anything to do with it ever again 🙂 However your review makes it sound like one I might like to give a go – perhaps a library one though (in case being reminded of those tortured afternoons learning the poetry drives me batty)

    Reply 03 November 2010 at 00:13

    Maxine said…
    Thanks, Margot and Bernadette. I suggest having a quick look at Sharon Wheeler’s review at RTE (link in post) which I read after I wrote mine. It’s a short and very pertinent review, and I think will help you decide one way or the other about reading this series. She picked up on a couple of very true points that I did not crystallise in my review (eg Sam being underdrawn, poss written with TV series in mind – would explain the lack of depth of characters and the focus on describing their actions).

    Bernadette – totally agree about the title but thankfully its relevance was pretty much limited to the Swinburne “Dolores” poem.

    Reply 03 November 2010 at 10:31

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