I was slightly confused when selecting this novel as I had already read a book in this series about lighthouses and a drowning (The Darkness and the Deep, #2), but yes, this is a different one! Here, a young woman, Ailsa Grant, was drowned in 1985, apparently by falling off a cliff below a lighthouse. When it turned out that Alisa was pregnant, it was assumed that her father, a brutal man, had killed her, but this was never proved – and is the only unsolved murder on the books of the Galloway police. DCI Marjory Fleming is therefore assigned to solve the case – which is doubly tricky for her, as her father was the investigating officer and her prickly boss the DI at the time. If Marjory finds any errors or oversights, she will not only be attacking the memory of her dead father (with whom she had a difficult relationship) but also putting herself in her boss’s black books.
Despite these potential pitfalls, Marjory attacks the problem with customary vigour, as well as dealing with current crimes such as knife fights on a Saturday night when the young men in the small town of Kircluce get drunk, and policing issues when the crew of a famous TV series, Playfair’s Patch (based on Taggart), turn up to shoot an episode. The protagonist of the series is played by Marcus Lindsay, who grew up in the area in a huge mansion owned by his parents – his father was a Polish air hero of the second world war. Marcus has persuaded Sylvia Lascelles, a famous old star of the silver screen to take a cameo role in the episode. Sylvia was his father’s mistress and a kind of second mother to Marcus, and is only too happy to come and stay at the family pile, even though it is gradually crumbling away through disuse and disrepair. Jaki, Marcus’s young girlfriend and actress in the series who hopes to make her role permanent, also agrees to stay with Marcus at the mansion.
While this odd trio somewhat uncomfortably coexist in the long intervals between filming, Marjory and her team investigate the knife crimes, which seem to point to some Polish builders, and the old case of Ailsa’s death, causing the police to meet Alisa’s horrid mother and an unpleasant couple who knew the girl while she was alive. One night, Marcus is attacked in his garden by someone with a knife – could the old and the new cases be linked? Ailsa’s mother is convinced that Marcus was the father of Ailsa’s unborn baby, even though he can prove he was in America all that year.
As well as trying to solve these cases, Marjory has a set of domestic challenges to cope with on the farm where she lives with her family. Eventually, she has to make a tough choice between loyalty to her son or to her job, a decision that seems to push her over the edge somewhat and – despite the fact that she solves both sets of crimes and pulls a useful political rabbit out of the hat – she ends up in a quandary about her future. To be resolved, no doubt, in the next book.
I am enjoying reading this series. Dead in the Water has a good solid plot, though the police characters (apart from Marjory) are little more than cardboard cut-outs. Marjory’s domestic situation is also a little blandly presented. The sense of location and the mystery elements are good, though, and the solutions, while to some extent depending on information not being provided to the reader until very late in the book, are satisfying. It is a pity that the character of Marjory’s psychologist friend Laura seems to have been written out, but a couple of the characters in this novel, in particular Jaki and the brother of the dead girl, are well drawn.
I borrowed this novel from the library.
Previous books in the series (with links to my reviews):