Judith Cutler is the author of many short stories and some thirty novels. Her most recent is Ring of Guilt (Severn House) the latest in the series featuring antique dealers Griff Tripp and Lina Townend. Check out the other novels on www.judithcutler.com
In his debut novel, one of a two book contract, one presumes, Fergus McNeill makes a very good impression.
The novel follows two men: one, Robert Naysmith, is a debonair businessman, in what seems a stable relationship. But his business success seems to leave him plenty of time to play with – so he plays a game of chance. Meeting his eye literally involves the victim in a game of life and death. One of the rules involves the time Naysmith allows himself to complete the crime; another means he has to leave an item stolen from one corpse on the next, and so on.
The other man is a bereaved police officer, DI Graham Harland, so angry with fate that he can be violent to his colleagues. Operating in a time of budgetary constraints and understaffing, he has to deal with the first we see of Naysmith’s victims – clearly there have been others. There is little evidence to go on – though it has to be said that this particular investigation seems remarkably low key, without the huge presence the media have led us to expect after the death of an attractive young woman. Similarly Naysmith is more technologically adept than his pursuers, remarkable given some impressive gizmos the police now use.
After a small but significant breakthrough, Harland locates the man whom he believes – rightly – to have been the perpetrator. By doing so, he saves the next intended victim’s life. But he hasn’t yet solved the crime.
We are left with a question hanging in the air: will Naysmith continue his game with such verve in the next novel – or will he be brought down by what he knows is his Achilles heel? One can all too clearly see the marketing implications of this gambit, but it must leave the average reader a tad frustrated.
Overall this is a competent opening novel in what presumes will turn into a series: the style is clear and pacy without yet having an individual stamp; the characterisation is good, though I do so yearn for a detective without the mandatory miserable personal life, and you certainly want to read the next in the series to find out what happens next – the essence of a good story.