When taking a risk on a début author – and yes, it is a risk – crime aficionados will want to know what is different about the novel; what is original about the novel; what might make the reader be prepared to trade their well looked after "nashers" for a set of dentures if the thrills are as good as anticipated from the blurb and synopsis on the sleeve, causing all sorts of tense jaw clenching.
- So, before we start, what marks out this début novel from Forbes?
1. It is very contemporary in feel and deals with the modern world, focusing on a phenomenon that has developed on the internet: some feel so down, but still so fearful to do the deed, that they seek a companion with whom to commit suicide.
2. The plot of the novel involves a twist on the above; someone wants to take advantage of these lost souls and enjoy their deaths.
3. The novel is set in west London and Forbes knows her "beat". I lived there for the best part of a decade and have keen memories of the places she explores – I can vouch for her knowing her "beat" in this novel.
4. In a very interesting "other twist", Forbes defies our prejudices of gender. Women seek to understand their thoughts and motives, often thinking too hard; men just get on with life and never pursue the emotional side too much. But here we have a protag, male, who is always examining his thoughts and emotions. Not that he’s your typical metrosexual man either. Far from it! When he needs to get somewhere fast and his own two legs won’t do, he’s on two wheels, not four. Neither does he take time out to seek a manicure/wax/facial. A different kind of male protag? You’ll find him here. Yes, he’s single; but he’s not a loner and an alcoholic. He tries, at all times, to be on top of things. He’s sociable and intuitive. Above all, he’s ambitious and his name is Mark Tartaglia. More later…
5. Marketed as a duo of fictional personalities for the future in this series, Fiona Blake (the pathologist in this novel) and Mark Tartaglia are not the only ones to have that future. Sam Donovan, a member of Tartaglia’s police team has a strong presence in Die with Me and a good story to tell. More of her, please.
But, back to the novel at hand, Die with Me…
In a nutshell: a young woman has met her death in west London and it looks like suicide. Delving deeper via police investigations, it becomes obvious that suicide was not the cause. She was not alone at the time of her departure. Other cases come to light. Links for the cases are tenuous to say the least; but all revolve within a police team in turmoil where the leader is in hospital and not likely to come back to work… Can anyone see the facts as they really are?
In Die with Me we do enter a world of turmoil. There’s a police team based in Barnes in west London that has been successful and stable, but we open with its leader in hospital and unlikely to come back to work, due to some sort of disability from injury during a previous case. All in the team want his survival and return, but things are unclear for a while, hence the eventual introduction of a new team leader, imposed upon Tartaglia and the rest. All this, in the middle of a case where Tartaglia thought he had it sussed (and thought he was the lead). But office politics being office politics, Tartaglia’s boss was too weak to handle the PR side of the case, so he delegated and brought in someone from another team…
Sam Donovan is a gutsy character, always a terrier’s teeth away on the next clue/situation in the investigation. But she also has a personal life and pursues that too, as she thinks she deserves it.
There’s plenty around the "no-smoking" conundrum of day to day life – oh, how topical given the changes in the law recently. Tartaglia wants to give up, but makes no real effort. Donovan does make a real effort, seeking hypnotherapy and appears to succeed. And a big thumbs up to Forbes here: she knows her treatments for giving up smoking, especially when it comes to hypnotherapy. She really does now the background and reasoning behind the treatment. However, I don’t think a hypnotherapist who treats those who wish to give up smoking would ever describe themselves as a "hypnotist", as that group consider themselves professionals with "hypnotism" a mere stage show that brings the use of hypnotism within hypnotherapy into disrepute, causing all sorts of misleading perceptions. That is a very small error, though, as Forbes is entirely accurate in describing how the treatment works and why. Hypnotherapy has been misinterpreted for years, in the media, in fiction and in movies; Forbes recaptures the chance to state the reality. Excellent research.
This is a page turner of a novel, densely plotted, with an abundance of welcome and deep characterisation. I could not find a unique selling point (USP), as, in a nutshell, it’s a police procedural, set in London; but that defies the list I started with at the top, all of which mark out Forbes as taking a new and very contemporary view of what is happening in British society today.
So, do give this novel a try; I think it’s the start of a damn good series. This is a novel to enjoy, page turn and experience thrills and wrong-footing when it comes to anticipation of outcome. And I anticipate that Forbes’s next novel will be even better, as she is one to be keenly observant and have her finger on the pulse.
Now, there you go, I have finally found the USP for this début author – "finger on the pulse of contemporary Britain (perhaps the world) and its ills". In Die with Me, it’s the internet that crackles a conundrum; it’s a wonderful tool, but its limits relate to its end-users – human beings in all forms in real life, behind the flat screen of visual presentation.
And we are left with another hook or two to entice into the next novel in the series… (I will leave you to read the novel to find out what those are.)
This is another début to catch in 2007. Miss the boat and you might be sorry…