Patricia Hall’s Deep Waters pulls London Metropolitan Police Detective Sergeant “Flash” Harry Barnard and his girlfriend into the undertow of an old crime that churns up new victims in the Swinging Sixties of London’s East End and its environs.
The story focuses more on Harry than on Kate O’Donnell, his photographer girlfriend, and Hall crafts a complex mystery using Harry’s wartime childhood, his national service during the floods that devastated England’s East Coast in 1953, and his assignment on the CID’s Vice Squad more than a decade later. I hadn’t (and still haven’t) read the previous mysteries in this series, but Hall provides sufficient background and this story stands on its own.
The writing is strong, with a literary style that maintains just the right amount of tension while bringing just enough of the past into the present. This is no Austin Powers parody, swamping readers with references to cultural icons. Hall tosses out a few references to Lennon and the Beatles, the Kinx, the Rolling Stones and Cilla Black. She also tosses in a few phrases from Sixties’ slang, like dolly bird, but younger readers and U.S. readers ought to be able to follow along without any real difficulty even if, unlike me, they haven’t previously encountered these.
For me, learning about different places and different times is part of the fun of reading fiction – and I’ve been reading British literature nearly as long as I’ve been reading American literature. Those who are well-versed in Brit lit won’t find any obstacles. Those who are not should enjoy the exposure to different spellings and new words.
The ending might disappoint some readers, as Hall doesn’t mop up every single storyline. It’s no cliffhanger, but neither is it neat and utterly complete. The crimes are violent – it is, after all, a murder mystery – but the depictions are no real threat to the reader’s sensibilities. The dialogue does include some of the vulgar words to be heard in London’s East End, both then and now, but Hall doesn’t drown the reader in them.
Note: Sis received an advanced reading copy from Severn House and NetGalley, for which she is grateful. This review reflects her opinions and only her opinions.
Deep Waters by Patricia Hall; 208 pp. Severn House. Hardcover $28.95 (USD); Kindle list price $22.91 (USD), pre-order price $14.99. Hardcover available now; Kindle edition scheduled for release 1 July 2016.
Synopsis: A past crime leads to new murder in the latest O’Donnell mystery
It’s 1964. Detective Sergeant Harry Barnard has been ordered to track down notorious Soho club owner Ray Robertson, who hasn’t been seen for several days. The case takes on a greater urgency when a battered body is discovered at the gym Ray owns. Is Ray the killer … or is he a victim? Photographer Kate O’Donnell works on a feature about the rebuilding of Canvey Island after the devastating East Coast floods of 1953. But as Kate and Harry are about to discover, the Canvey Island floods, the murder and Ray Robertson’s disappearance are connected in more ways than one …