Highly recommended — despite reservations
Introducing outspoken female sleuth Alex Quick in the first of a new mystery series by Susan Moody. When her business partner, acclaimed art historian and university professor Dr. Helena Drummond, disappears, Alexandra Quick is consumed by guilt. Shortly before she vanished, Helena had complained of being menaced by a stalker, and Alex had dismissed her fears as groundless. Now Alex, a former police detective, is determined to use her finely-honed investigative skills to find out what’s happened to her friend and colleague. But the more she uncovers, the more Alex realizes how little she really knew Dr. Helena Drummond. As it becomes increasingly clear that the woman she thought she knew so well has been keeping a great many secrets from her, Alex must decide: is Helena a victim . . . or is she a killer?
Susan Moody’s Quick and The Dead is exactly the kind of mystery I want to fling in the face of my more intellectual friends who decry my preference for “frivolous” fiction – or, as they scathingly condemn such books, “mind candy.”
First, you won’t find anything “frivolous” about Alex Quick, a former high-ranking homicide detective who left the force after finding out about her husband’s infidelities . . . and suffering a heart-rending miscarriage of the child she hadn’t known she carried. Second, no one who reads Quick and The Dead with a mind even partially pried open could dismiss this as “mind candy.”
Instead, this is the highly literate fiction for which British mystery writers, in particular, are so well known – and well regarded. Think P.D. James, although I am not suggesting that Moody’s style is anything other than her own. Not for a moment. No, this is literature that just so happens to involve murder and other mysteries.
The murder is disturbingly violent – and readers need to know that the initial depiction of the murder scene is disturbingly detailed as well. This is no comfortable cosy! Yet, I strongly recommend Quick and The Dead to readers who even think they may be able to handle it, and they can thank Moody’s deftness in dealing with the scene from there on out for that recommendation. Quick herself is so deeply affected by the violent killing that she cannot (and Moody does not) continue to dwell on these details. Instead, the restraint employed by the character and her creator serve to heighten the sense of heinousness without subjecting the reader’s mental imagery to further violence.
Readers should also be prepared for a bit more than a sprinkling of four-letter words, in particular one that is usually considered the most objectionable by those of us who dislike them. (That includes me.) And yet, I still think readers who can possibly overlook their objections to graphic violence and obscene words should and would enjoy this novel. Some can’t, and those won’t. And that’s a pity, because this is a stunning read.
Alex Quick is both tough and tender. It’s not just “cop-speak” when she blurts out such words. This is who she is, and that is how she would speak. Moody has created a complex, multi-dimensional character who fascinates, and I look forward to getting to know her better. I also look forward (and plan to look backward, too) to more from Moody. I like her way with words, even if I don’t like all of the words she employs, and I like her sense of story.
The mystery begins when Quick discovers a dead woman in her colleague’s flat . . . and quickly realizes how little she knows about the woman with whom she works. Helena Drummond, the art historian with a body in her bed, is as much a mystery as the identity of the killer.
“She comes across as so open and let-it-all-hang-outish, but in fact she gives almost nothing away. So I don’t know anything about her background or her family situation. Nothing. Apart from the fact that she’s been married twice,” Quick tells another character as she begins her search for her missing partner. She’s immediately stunned to learn that one of those husbands is a painter whose work she has long admired and has urged Helena to include in one of the compilations of pictures and text that they have published to much acclaim and some profit.
The police, not surprisingly, want to find Helena, too. One does tend to wonder about the disappearance of a woman when another woman’s body is found, brutalized, in her bed. Quick is sure Helena couldn’t be involved . . . but the more she searches for answers, the more questions she finds. About Helena. About the victim. About herself.
The intensity builds, as Moody layers mystery upon mystery, pulling the reader further and further into the story, swiping page after page until there is nothing left to discover. And that’s just as well, because, by then, the reader should be thoroughly satisfied, even satiated.
One final warning: Readers may very well have a hard time settling on what to read next because, I promise, they will not want to settle for less.
Note: Sis received an advanced reading copy from Severn House and NetGalley. This review reflects her opinions and only her opinions. The book is for sale, but Sis is not – nor has the publisher nor anyone else connected with this or any other book attempted to corrupt her.
Hardcover $28.95 (USD), pre-order price $23.01 as of 30 March 2016; Kindle list price $22.36 (USD), pre-order price $14.99 as of 30 March 2016. Scheduled for release in the U.S. on 1 May 2016.