"Deadly Alibi" Leigh Russell
Two murder victims and a suspect whose alibi appears open to doubt.... Geraldine Steel is plunged into a double murder investigation which threatens not only her career, but her life. And then her previously unknown twin Helena turns up, with problems which are about to make Geraldine's life turn toxic in more ways than one!
Incredibly this is the ninth book in the Geraldine Steel series by Leigh Russell who now has an established fan base with glowing reviews on Amazon and Goodreads. I only came across the series at #8 but one day I intend to go back to #1 and meet Geraldine at the beginning of her journey- out of interest rather than a necessity, as the two Steel mysteries I have read work as stand alone novels. But as Steel's own story arc is beginning to really carve itself out alongside the criminal investigation in Book 9, it would satisfy my own curiosity to see how Russell portrayed her from the beginning.
Anyway, back to "Deadly Alibi" which begins with a fittingly anonymous, ambiguous and dramatic prologue throwing us straight in at the deep end, immediately raising plenty of questions as well as setting an appropriately sinister and dark atmosphere necessary for a good crime novel!
The story opens with several threads unspooling across the pages but the most captivating one being the discovery of a woman's body in a wheelie bin. The investigation sets of at a gallop. Russell's procedural detail is authentic, detailed enough without weighing down the text with overwhelming jargon or technical talk. Russell uses a lot of dialogue and those that are more familiar with the series will recognise favourite characters returning to their desks to carry out their part in the investigation.
Russell's story has dark elements within it and a couple of scenes were uncomfortable to read. She can capture the villain's character convincingly and describe his actions with chilling bluntness:
"Before he had realised what he was doing, the chisel had struck. It had all happened so quickly. The craziness hadn't lasted long. Once her skull had split open, that had been the end of it."
However, generally the pages are not splattered with too much gratuitous blood or gore and I think Russell is actually as interested in the characters and the journeys they find themselves on as much as driving the plot forward at a rattling pace.
There are several points when one of the detectives or people working on the case lost themselves in their own thoughts and spoke directly to the victim as if the dead body would answer back. I found this very visual - and I liked the light touch of humour it brought to the pages too when Steel is reminded that the corpse in front of her will never be able to offer any light on the events.
"If she could tell us that, we'd both be out of job!"
Halfway through the book, after a few twists and turns, the case seems neatly solved, all the loose ends tied up and Steel being congratulated for her work.
"'A case of husbands wanting to murder their wives,' he remarked when she had finished."
"The case was solved. Geraldine should have been pleased, but...."
But...... there you go...there's the but..... But I was only 48% through so there must be more! And more to come there is! Plenty more!
I'm not going to spoil it for you, but "Deadly Alibi" is a story about identity, the wrong identity, assumptions, evidence, the wrong evidence, false alibi's, seeing and not seeing things. The plot is easy to follow but there are a number of different threads to keep track of and Russell's skill is in the way she weaves everything together to an effective conclusion.
What I found interesting in this book too was that Russell juggled two story lines. Foremost is the story of murder, but secondly is the story of Geraldine Steel - aspects of which mirrored some of the themes about identity that are explored by Steel in a more pragmatic, physical way during her police work.
In this instalment, Geraldine is grieving for her mother, meeting her twin for the first time and confronting things from her past.
"She had managed for forty years without a twin in her life. She wasn't sure she was ready to meet Helena yet."
This is a very intriguing sub plot - to find not just a sister, but a twin sister - after all this time. As this happens, Steel also has to deal with the death of her mother - whatever the relationship had or hadn't been - and then is very quickly drawn into conflicting situations and tricky moral dilemmas with someone she really doesn't have much of a relationship with at all. Situations which have very serious repercussions for Geraldine's future.
What's interesting is the emotional impact that the funeral and the arrival of her twin Helena have on Steel. I enjoyed this aspect of the novel and found the effect it had on Geraldine's professional life added a layer of drama, complexity and suspense.
"She waited for the sense of urgency that consumed her whenever she saw a murder victim, the feeling that she had to see the killer punished. That was what gave her life a sense of purpose. For the first time she felt only a cold indifference."
"Everybody died. Did it really matter if the end came prematurely?"
This is a woman under pressure. As Steel herself realises, "it might have been a mistake to think she could cope unaided with so much personal grief." What effect will this have on her ability to solve the crime, keep herself safe and focused, work with death, grief, untruths and complicated relationships?
I am new to the Geraldine Steel mysteries but I can completely see their appeal. Russell's writing is purposeful, fluent and very readable. The crimes are intriguing, with a controlled level of violence so that the reader is not overwhelmed or intimidated by the scenes they read, but still remains excited and suitably wary. There is a wide range of characters, who are all very real and very relatable. The dynamics between the characters are believable and help to reflect more about their personalities.
Readers like to have a protagonist who is flawed or struggling with some inner demon and in this book Russell achieves this. A lot of detective characters are troubled souls, or socially awkward, aloof or slightly quirky and again, although Steel is professional, bright, dedicated and trustworthy, her emotional fragility does add a further layer of interest to the story.
This novel marks quite a turning point in Steel's story and I would be really interested to see what happens next. I think Russell knew full well her readers would feel this way, as she has kindly left the ending open so there is potential should she wish. I would be interested to see what direction Russell takes us in - if she does move forward to book 10 - and quite how she would follow on from such a dramatic turn of events at the end of "Deadly Alibi".
If you enjoy detective fiction and authors like Marnie Riches, Angela Marson, Peter James, Michael Wood and Nikki Owens then you will enjoy this novel. It's a page turner which isn't afraid to lead you down one path, let you crash into a dead end then pull you back and make you set off in a new direction. You won't need breadcrumbs or wool to find your way through the plot, but there will be enough twists and turns which will ensure you can't put it down for a while!
Geraldine Steel is a very likeable character who the reader is rooting for all the way. I would recommend this book!
"Deadly Alibi" publishes in ebook on 8th December 2016 and 25th May 2017 as a paperback by No Exit Press.
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