Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Review: Blind Fury by Lynda La Plante

Detective Inspector Anna Travis has a new case. A young woman was raped, strangled, murdered, and then thrown into a field a service station on the M1 outside London. Three more cold cases are linked to the murder, victims of a serial killer, but something is off. DI Travis can feel it and so can her boss Detective Chief Supervisor Langton, her ex-lover.

The man in their sights works for Swell Blinds. John Smiley is all that he seems and more. No one has a bad word to say about him and he is very cooperative in the investigation when brought in for questioning about his work van parked in the lot at the time of the murders and caught on CCTV.

Although, Smiley looks too good to be true, Langton has a feeling they have the right man. The problem is they have nothing to tie Smiley to the women except being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Feelings aren't enough to go on. That's why Langton was willing to send Anna to Barfield Prison to interview a serial killer she helped catch.

Cameron Welsh is obsessed with Anna and she doesn't believe Welsh has anything to add to their case. Anna follows orders and interviews Welsh several times. Beneath the arrogance, Welsh knows more than he says and he continues to dangle the bait to draw Anna closer, and she comes closer than she cares to come to trap Smiley.

Cameron Welsh tells Anna Travis that no matter how careful a murderer is, there's always a witness, which provides one of the main themes in Lynda La Plante's latest thriller, Blind Fury. Witnesses pop up all through the novel and La Plante uses them to good effect.

At first glance, it seems as though Welsh is Hannibal Lecter to Anna's Clarisse Starling, but the comparison doesn't hold. Welsh doesn't have Lecter's calm and pointed clarity nor is Anna the willing student anxious to climb the ladder of success. Anna also lacks Clarisse's intuitive read on Welsh's character. Where Lecter is insightful and shares information that helps move things along, Welsh is frustrated and frustrating, using the interviews as mental masturbation. Welsh does help, but such help as could have been laid out in the first interview.

La Plante lacks the polished characterization used to such telling effect by Thomas Harris in Silence of the Lambs and loses her grip, much as Welsh loses his calm, superior demeanor when he discovers Anna is interested in another man. Welsh witnesses Anna with one of his guards, Ken Hudson, a buff blond guard studying to be a child psychologist.

Where La Plante fails to hit the mark is in the sudden intense relationship between Anna and Ken, moving from tentative first date to sex to marriage in less than three dates. Anna, who has always been obsessed with her work and is an orphan, is too anxious to move forward after her failed relationship with Langton, and jumps into sex and marriage with determined effort. The minor hitches along the way where Anna suspects Ken might be involved in the murder fail to ring true and look like attempts to throw a few roadblocks that never actually work. They are as quickly disposed of as is Anna's single-minded career track, coming off as desperation rather than head over heels love at first glance. It simply does not work.

Where La Plante excels is in detailing the minutiae of a murder investigation, going over and over the same ground mining for bits of information. Blind Fury is a template for how murder investigation are run and the time consuming work done by the officers--and the reader at times. The attention to detail does pay off as Anna gets the killer and finds out how all the murders are committed since the murderer is only too happy to lay out the details.

Blind Fury is less a thriller and more a police procedural, with the emphasis on the procedure. The relationships between co-workers and the main characters is less detailed and there is no ticking clock, although budgetary cuts are mentioned a couple of times. La Plante knows the turf and describes it well, providing an excellent manual on how to proceed in a cold case investigation. The human element takes a back seat to solving the murder and there Blind Fury succeeds beyond all expectations.

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