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.

14 thoughts on “Book review: Gone in Seconds by A J Cross

  1. I really don’t want to read another book about men who abduct women which is a shame as I like to discover new writers. Her personal life sounds a little like the characters in MR Hall’s books. Probably not one for me although a forensic psychologist from a UK perspective might be interesting.

    • I know what you mean, Sarah. It’s a pity as it is a well written (if too long) book, but it is just so, so standard. Probably some TV producer will like it.

  2. I absolutely agree with you Maxine especially the ‘made-for-TV’ comment- I definitely pictured a two-part programme on a Monday and Tuesday night on ITV! I also wanted to score through some of the text with a fat red pen as I thought the proof copy I read was in dire need of editing. Disappointing….

    • Thanks for the comment – glad it wasn’t just me as I hate to be down unfairly on books. I try to be nice about them…I just kept wishing for a bit of originality as I felt sure the author was capable of it. And yes, lots of the preamble, over-busy sections at the start could have been cut or edited; and some of the dead-ends could have been dropped or severely truncated. Plus the number of times bad boss comes in the room & is awful– yes, yes, we geddit!

  3. Shame about the length…and the samey-ness…there are a lot of books that suffer on both counts I’m afraid. It’s hard to know what to say about such books – not terrible but so forgettable because of not standing out from the pack. I must admit the words above the title would have been enough to put me off (the HE WATCHES. HE WAITS. HE KILLS bit) though that is probably unfair as the author has no say in that and often such nonsense has little to do with the story. But when you’re talking debut authors what else can you go on?

    • It’s not a book I’d have felt comfortable deciding to read with that “tagline” I agree – but it isn’t very accurate in terms of the contents. Also, Jane Casey’s The Burning had some similarly awful cover words and I liked that – so I try not to be prejudiced in my self-imposed duty to read a few debut novels a month -:) as you write, it isn’t under the author’s control, I’m sure.

  4. Maxine – Excellent review as ever, so thanks for that. I will probably wait to read this though, although I do like the setting. It seems far too same-y for me and too long. I’m glad the writing style is good, though – that’s at least something.

  5. As I’m associated with the Institution involved this had me really interested so it’s a shame it’s no better. I am wondering, however, who A J Cross might be. I think I’d better do a bit of digging!

    • She is said in the publicity to be a forensic psychologist but that’s about it. Hope you manage to find out. Ruth Galloway, a character by Elly Griffiths, at the fictional North Norfolk university, is a much more individual, and interesting, creation along these lines, in my opinion (though she’s a forensic archaeologist, not psychologist).

      • Yes, I love Griffiths’ work. And we’re quite used to being fictionalised. As part of David Lodge’s Rummidge, we spent hours discussing who was really who:)

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