Book review: Vengeance in Mind by N J Cooper

Vengeance in Mind
by N J Cooper
Simon and Schuster, 2012
Karen Taylor #4

I had not intended to read the latest Karen Taylor novel so soon after reading the previous two, but when I saw a copy in the library I decided that fate had intervened. Vengeance in Mind is the best so far in this series, I think, and can be read without having read the previous novels: the main elements of Karen’s back-story are easy enough to pick up for newcomers to this intelligent, attractively independent but somewhat impulsive protagonist.

Karen is a psychology academic at the University of Southampton but is also an occasional consultant to DCI Charlie Trench of the Isle of Wight police force. Karen’s varied research interests are usually uncannily similar to a crime that Charlie is investigating, as is the case here. The body of a globally famous, philanthropic businessman is found viciously mutilated in the kitchen of his grand mansion on the island. The only other inhabitant of the highly secure house is Sheena, the person who called the police. Sheena claims to have no memory of what happened between arriving the night before and discovering the body, so Charlie calls in Karen to assess her believability. Karen accepts the job because she just happens to be embarking on a research project about why some murderers mutilate their victims after killing them.

The novel is not at all gory or explicit, despite this ghoulish opening. The emphasis is on Karen’s assessment of Sheena and her subsequent actions as she begins to dig into Sheena’s life as the mistress and press secretary of the deceased to try to find if the young woman is a fantasist or is telling the truth. Karen’s investigations lead her into terrible danger, but also an increased determination to find out the connection between the murder and a charitable foundation to help young women who have been trafficked from eastern Europe.

I very much enjoyed this book, even though there is no suspense about the identity of the killer(s) — for Karen it is a matter of following her hunches and persuading the irascible Charlie to take her seriously, and for the reader it is a question of following in her wake as she dashes between Southampton, London and the island following leads and interrogating people she regards as suspects or witnesses, whatever the police may think.

Despite some flaws, not least the tendency of Karen’s regular associates to have friends who can help out in any situation at the drop of a hat (Karen’s boss Max here turns out to have a direct line to a women’s refuge that comes in handy a couple of times, her on-off boyfriend Will suddenly acquires a sister at a useful point in the plot, and a publican happens to know a radio ham just when Karen needs one), the book is a brisk and largely satisfying read. It benefits from less emphasis on the rivalries between Charlie’s team and Karen, and on Karen’s romantic dithering, as in previous novels these inconclusive elements have slowed things up too much. The main gripe I have with Vengeance in Mind is everyone’s dismissive treatment of a second murder victim. But there are some very good moments, not least a scene in which a character experiences a heroin injection and its aftermath, which is compellingly and vividly described. N J Cooper manages an impressive achievement: an unflinching look at nasty events and their underbelly, without being “cosy” or using excessive graphic detail. Without pulling her punches, she knows what is necessary, and what is too much.

I borrowed this book from the library.

My reviews of the previous books in this series: No Escape (#1); Lifeblood (#2) and Face of the Devil (#3).

Crime Time: article by the author about writing (this novel in particular).

Publisher’s website: about the Karen Taylor series.

13 thoughts on “Book review: Vengeance in Mind by N J Cooper

  1. Your excellent review makes the book seem interesting, but they were lucky this crime did not occur during the recent the Isle of Wight Festival, when dashing around was impossible due to the terrible weather conditions.

  2. I will happily read another in this series though may wait a bit having only just read one. I like the sound of this one and am even curious about Karen’s various personal woes…does she finish her book? build her house? (it’s OK no answers expected). At least I can assume from the above that Will recovers😉

    • I did my best to make the review totally spoiler-free but I obviously did not entirely succeed😉

  3. Sounds like a good bit of crime fiction, in that nether world, not a cozy or a violent thriller. However, the TBR pile and lists are so out of control that I have no idea when or whether I can get to this. And for this heat wave over here, I’m reading books with cold climates and lots of snow and ice.
    I just finished Hakan Nesser’s Hour of the Wolf, an excellent read, am reading a thus far unread Sjowall/Wahloo, have Camilleri’s latest book and a big book pile.

  4. Maxine – As always, a top-notch review. One of the things that appeals to me about this is that there seems a solid balance between focus on the crimes and focus on the characters’ personal lives. As you mention in your post, sometimes novels stray just a little too far in the other direction. And it’s good to hear that stories like this can be told without relying on a high “ick” factor.

  5. I used to read this writer as Natasha Cooper but it has been years since I read one of her books. You have obviously enjoyed this series. I can’t decide if I’ tempted yet….

    • I think it was my fault, Sarah, as I discovered her and read her then-latest, which turned out to be her last Natasha Cooper book! So when she changed to “N J” I read the first as I’d enjoyed the last Natasha book.

  6. Maxine: I skimmed enough of the review to interest me in the book. I just realized I have been neglecting English crime fiction. I have been reading around Europe, North America, Australia and even New Zealand but not the United Kingdom. I am going to have to see what is in the TBR pile for the U.K.

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