PAIN OF DEATH
Written by Adam Creed
Review written by LJ Hurst
Initially, L. J. Hurst worked in the backrooms of the media industry. He now divides his time between work for an international scientific publisher and a rather more British independent bookseller. In years past he was a regular attendee at the Shots on the Page Festivals from whence Shots Mag sprung
Faber & Faber
Released: 1st April 2011
This is the third of Adam Creed’s DI Staffe novels – “Staffe” is Detective Inspector Will Wagstaffe of the City of London Police. I missed the second of the series, Willing Flesh, but I read the first, Suffer the Children in an afternoon, after putting if off. Strangely, the same has happened to me again.
Not only a writer, Adam Creed is a teacher of writing and I think he should be careful: not everyone could do what he does and carry it off. His style involves writing in the present tense, very little description and just as little backstory, and cutting scenes short. That makes the first chapter, which should be gruesome, also frustrating: in a deep tunnel, an unused sidetrack of an unused underground line, a woman’s body has been found; then found not to be a corpse but a woman so critically injured that she cannot help the police with their inquiries. Then found to have recently given birth, probably so recently that she must have given birth in the tunnel. In which case, where is the placenta? In which case, where is the child? Staffe is there in the tunnel as novel begins with these discoveries, but does he realise all this? You will be reading several chapters ahead before you realise that he has, and that he has a third question, one not to be raised without spoiling the plot.
Staffe is a short-tempered character, someone who breaks off as soon as he gets an answer to his question, someone who rarely tries to get into the head of the person he is interviewing, and – more annoyingly – someone who does not share his realisations either with his colleagues or make them clear to readers. On the other hand, the characters he has to deal with – politicians on the make, ideologues with trust funds, professional foster-parents, Soho club landlords, Merseyside scag-heads, and useless boyfriends good only for impregnating their girlfriends just when the girls are starting a career – would drive any investigator to raise his or her voice, particularly when there are missing children and mothers-to-be close to term.
The background of Pain of Death is the rigidity of opposition to late abortion and a shadowy group who might be kidnapping women in their third trimester so that they can be forced to give birth rather than go through with the late abortion. A backbench parliamentarian might be using the newspaper coverage of such kidnappings for added support of his campaign lowering the Abortion Act weekly limit. All of this seems unlikely, nothing like the treatment of the problem I read about in my newspapers, and the general atmosphere is anachronistic, as if Staffe is dealing with a problem of the ‘thirties or the ‘fifties. So what is it that makes Pain of Death work? It took me a little time to realise, but gradually I did realise: everything fits together. Nothing is disparate, there are no random suspects. Neat.