A boy disappears from the house where he he has been baby-sitting, leaving the house and the baby unharmed. His body is found in the bath-tub of a supermarket assistant – and soon afterwards she too is found suffocated in the same place. There seems to be no connection between the two victims, but then it turns out that the dead woman and the mother of the baby that the boy was minding once worked together – at a seedy night-club owned by a nasty piece of work that the Manchester cops have had their eyes on for years.
Coincidence or wot? It’s a neat set up, and I liked the first Jessica Daniel novels: sound plots, decent cops, a smart and steady pace, characterful but uncomplicated female lead. Well-made old-school police procedurals. A nice change. But oh dear, oh dear, what a falling off is here.
Wilkinson’s own story is the one we all want to hear: the self-published author who becomes a run-away success. But he needs to slow down, and boy, does he need a good editor. He’s published five Jessica Daniel stories since 2011, and more besides, and he’s getting careless. There’s a lot to be learned from where he goes wrong.
As the nasty-piece-of-work night-club owner gets more of Jessica’s attention, the poor murdered boy and his grieving parents all but disappear from the story, and that’s pretty unforgivable. No further questions, no updates, no victim support. Of course the nasty piece of work is more fun to write about. We all get that. But it would be so easy to keep the boy’s story in the frame, and plenty of flab that could be trimmed to make room for it. The unintended consequence of this is that it makes Jessica seem self-absorbed and uncaring.
If I’m not engaged by a book’s characters, I’m more likely to be irritated by niggles I would otherwise take in my stride. Someone should tell KW that if a character is meant to be taken seriously, she shouldn’t giggle so often, and that if a villain is always referred to by his innocuous given name, he loses a lot of his menace. Wilkinson’s prose would be crisper if he stripped out some dull and unnecessary detail and there’s a clunky, pointless shift in the time scheme that obliges him to head one chapter ‘Earlier That Day’. Pur-lease.
We all know that we don’t see our own work very clearly. That’s why every writer needs a reliable critical buddy (and the invaluable services of The Writers’ Workshop). But presumably Kerry Wilkinson now has expert advice at his disposal. However, I think MacMillan are letting him down. It wouldn’t have taken much work to put right this book’s structural faults and brush up its writing, but the brand has been damaged because someone was over-eager to get out another installment. An over-worked golden goose can soon become a clapped-out battery bird.