TRUE WITNESS

Written by Jo Bannister

Review written by Gwen Moffat

Gwen Moffat lives in Cumbria. Her novels are set in remote communities ranging from the Hebrides to the American West. The crimes fit their environment, swelling that dreadful record of sin in the smiling countryside cited by Sherlock Holmes. The style echoes this: rustic charm masking horror.


TRUE WITNESS
Allison & Busby
RRP: £17.99
Released: 1st May 2003
Hbk

This novel is the second involving Brodie Farrell investigator, and Daniel Hood, astronomer and one-time teacher. The author assumes you have read the first in the series, and it's disconcerting if you haven't.

We open with a man alone in a. house at night with a girl (not his), and paedophilia is signalled. That he has promised to show her the rings of Saturn appears a neat ploy to the new reader until the man witnesses a murder. Then the mother of the child arrives and we realise that these adults are the series characters. So apparently no paedophilia; we are free to concentrate on the murder, and the fraught situation arising from the fact that Daniel is the sole witness.

However, he is honest to a fault and finds himself unable to identify the killer despite the MO having all the hallmarks of crimes carried out a decade ago when young boys were tortured, raped and murdered and the killer, although known to the police, walked free for lack of evidence.

Ten years later two more lads die. The townsfolk and a redneck DI have it in for Daniel and his awkward integrity so it's down to his friend Brodie to protect him and attempt to discover the perpetrator of the recent atrocities. Daniel's house is torched, he blames himself for his failure to target the murderer and goes walkabout only to become the next victim. Tradition gets a twist as Brodie rides to the rescue.

Initially the style is cosy but smooth corners are roughed off as the novel gets into its stride. Proof-reading could have been better; a Land Rover becomes a jeep in the following paragraph (the relevant makers won't like that); "pristine" is employed for "clean", and if there are stone walls on the South Downs, the country's changed since this reader's day. However, flaws point up merit, and some good dialogue and plausible characters hint that if Bannister sets her next novel in Northern Ireland - where she lives - the difference of the setting allied with a foundation implicit in True Witness suggest a promising Irish mystery.

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