Whitley Bay, in the north-east of England, is the setting for this debut police procedural. In the opening chapter, a young woman is out at night arguing with her boyfriend, then is killed. DI Jack Brady is still recovering from being shot “almost” in the balls a year ago – we know the wound can’t be all that bad as we first encounter him in bed with a young woman he’s picked up the night before and whose name he does not know. Still on sick leave, he’s called back to work at short notice by his unpleasant boss to replace his colleague DI Jack Matthews, who was in charge of the investigation, but who has abruptly vanished after committing the shockingly careless mistake of throwing his coat over the corpse, thus compromising the forensic gathering of evidence.
Brady is a mess, a parody of every affliction of male cops in crime fiction. Not only is his sex-life (and his home) unfit for scrutiny but his wife has left him because he had a fling with a colleague, he’s addicted to alcohol and tobacco, and he launches into the investigation determined to cover up any involvement of Matthews, to whom he owes an unspecified favour. As the book progresses, we discover a trauma from Brady’s childhood, witness the reappearance of a drunk old tramp who seems to have a hold on him, and become aware of his longstanding friendship with a local Mr Big. Brady is the epitome of the macho cop, attacking witnesses verbally, never keeping records, being attracted to any female within range, constantly on the edge of enraged breakdown as the burden of all his secrets, as well as his bad leg, take their toll.
Broken Silence is a revved-up curate’s egg. Somewhere in this overcomplicated mélange is a good mystery story with a couple of twists in its tail that cries out for a pared-down telling. The setting of Whitby is vividly, if revoltingly, conveyed. Yet the whole is a mess, written at an easy-reading level to put it politely, and full of clichés, for example we are several times told of Brady’s “olive” complexion (is he green?). Characters enter and depart to play their predictable roles as necessary to the plot (bitter ex-wife, sad ex-girlfriend now married to Brady’s best friend, irascible pathologist, seedy journalist, good cop colleague, bad cop colleague, etc), never staying long enough to become more than cardboard and in at least some cases, seemingly there only to set up themes to be explored in future books. The story is regularly unbelievable, for example Brady interviews an upset teenage girl with no social worker or female officer, and various characters commit crimes with impunity but never feature in the papers – hardly likely, but necessary for the plot.
The novel is a quick and easy read that seems to have commercial potential, but the author is clearly talented so it is sad that she has missed the chance to turn an overly detailed account, more crammed full of drama than a TV soap opera, into the focused, hard-hitting crime novel that it could have been. This is unfortunate, as the theme of the sexual abuse of teenage girls, and its acceptance – even encouragement – throughout society (the professions, the media and so on) is one of the West’s main social problems of today. The book is sincere in its exposure of many issues surrounding this horror, but it is more concerned with the egoistical Brady and his mess of a life, than with this more interesting, and challenging, aspect.
I borrowed this book from the library. It was shortlisted for the CWA Debut Dagger in 2009.
There is already a second book in the series, Vanishing Point, reviewed at Reviewing the Evidence.