Paula O’Hare casts her eye over recent crime fiction
The Sleeping Season
Kelly Creighton. Friday Press | 276pp | £8.99 pb | 20cm | 9781708710927
review by Paula O’Hare
Kelly Creighton has written other fiction, but this book announces the start of a new, present-day Belfast police series featuring Harriet Sloane of the PSNI. Harriet is a detective inspector in Strandtown station, in her thirties. It’s a job that runs in the family: her father is a retired police officer and her mother was a well-known judge.
One Monday morning, she and her partner, DI Diane Linskey, get a call about a missing four-year-old boy, River, and go to the house to meet the parents. Having the police walk through your door in those circumstances is like having the roof lifted off your house, exposing every private thing to the judgement of strangers, your dressing gown, your choice of breakfast cereals, whether you and your partner operate as a team or not.
And at the same time, there are things that are not obvious until someone asks them. So, the missing boy’s mother recounts what time he went to bed and what his missing coat looks like. She entirely fails on the first police visit to say ‘this man beside me that I have just introduced as my partner, is not the boy’s father. The father lives across town, and by the way I haven’t even told him yet that the kid is missing.’
It’s a very good way of showing the reality of a police investigation. In every new scene they walk into, the police can only know what they see on the surface, and ask and are told and find out. Everyone else has a world of information in their heads that has to be laboriously extracted.
In that spirit, DIs Harriet and Diane work through the case methodically: visit the registered sex offender who lives in the catchment area; the man who found the child’s coat in a park he is never normally brought to; the playgroup leader; the neighbour with the garden backing on; the landlord of the farm the father is sort of renting in Monaghan.
Everyone’s little, ordinary, everyday lies and oddities start to be uncovered. The child’s father is on the dole and working off the books at a garage, and going up and down to his mother’s old house in Monaghan to avoid debt collectors. The sex offender disappears off the camera at his workplace for a block of hours. The child had epilepsy but the mother hadn’t told the school. The man who found River’s coat has a lot of crime books, and remembers previous lost-child cases in detail and wants to talk about them.
All the observation of people and places rings completely true. The picture drawn of the mother, particularly—irritable, defensive for no clear reason, angry at everyone who is failing to help her, and at the same time failing to see what she needs to tell the police—is very fresh.
The heroine DI Harriet, her work ethic, her relationships with her police colleagues, is set up very solidly by this book, which is the basis of the planned series. The author may have front-loaded too much of the family backstory into this book—just for future flexibility she may wish she had spread it more thinly—but that is the kind of mechanical issue that writers can fix. The crucial thing is that the people, their places and everything they say is totally credible. Highly recommended.
Paula O’Hare is a public sector lawyer who likes detective novels.