Book review: Gone in Seconds by A J Cross

Gone in Seconds
by A J Cross
Orion, 2012

Gone in Seconds ticks all the boxes for a contemporary crime novel: but is that enough? The heroine, Kate Hudson, is a senior lecturer in criminology at Birmingham University who works in parallel for the West Midlands police force’s unsolved crime unit. She’s divorced from an unpleasant barrister who defends obviously guilty people, and has a 12-year-old daughter Maisie with whom she has an up-and-down relationship. Kate’s main professional interest, as disclosed in a lecture she gives to new students in chapter 1, is in men who abduct girls and/or young women. She emphasises to her students how many of these men operate under the radar, because society has no way of alerting the public to them: we tend to follow cases in the media when someone disappears, or a case in court when someone is caught, but Kate’s line is that women in general need to be much more “switched on” in their daily lives, to avoid this fate.

The first few chapters introduce too many characters and themes at once. The police unit staff comprise a full compliment of genre staples: handsome/sensitive American FBI-type, the boss from hell, gruff grandfatherly figure, obsessively accurate pathologist, scene-of-crime men (one nice, one nasty), and Julian, one of Kate’s students who helps with all the computer “stuff”. Kate herself has a caricature of a cleaning lady, on-tap to look after Maisie at inconvenient times, as Kate is a workaholic. Maisie is usually out at her friend Chelsey’s house, causing Kate much angst about how much parental control to try to insist upon.

Once the book gets over all the scene-setting, it settles into the main plot, in which the remains of a teenager who went missing ten years ago are found. The book focuses on the identification of the body, and on Kate’s psychological insight which enhances the police procedural aspects of the investigation (despite the boss’s fury on the topic). More bodies are found, more suspects identified, and soon it dawns on everyone that the criminal might be one of the unsolved crime unit’s staff……

Although this book is a solid read, particularly strong in the sections about the parents of the missing girls, it has a sense of being “made for TV” (there are regular name-checks of branded clothing and fashion accessories) and is utterly predictable in its plot as well as in its stock cast of characters. After I’d read the first few chapters I made a note of what I thought would happen, and 400 pages later I was correct on all counts, short of precisely naming the villain.

I would have liked this book a lot more if it had been 250 pages in length rather than 420, which meant the pace was very slow and the content padded, given that almost every event was so predictable. I was disappointed by the one element that seemed to me to be potentially original: Kate’s insistence that the “serial killer” popularised by the media does not exist, but that what does are people she calls “repeaters”. I did not see how the two differed at all, on the evidence of this novel.

Those who don’t read as much crime fiction as I do (or watch the many TV programmes that concern forensic crime) may well find Gone In Seconds is a competent, satisfying genre novel. It certainly has a nice sense of its West Midlands setting, but there is not anything in it to make it stand out from the pack.

I obtained this book via Amazon Vine.

Another review: Entertainment Focus.

Publisher website: about the author, who is a forensic psychologist.