Monday, July 6, 2015

Murder in Thrall by Anne Cleeland

Murder in Thrall is not your normal British police procedural. The Detective Chief Inspector, Michael Acton, is a stalker. He admits as much to the object of his obsession, Detective Constable Kathleen Doyle, who is elevated from the lower ranks to work with him because of his interest in her. “Misdemeanor or felony?” she asks him. He thinks about it for a moment and replies “felony.” He has entered her apartment. He watches her through binoculars. He takes photos of her sleeping unaware and keeps them on his phone.

I was totally sucked into this odd mystery and didn’t want to stop reading. Each chapter opens with a brief insight into what’s going on in Acton’s mind. The rest of the narrative is from Doyle’s viewpoint. She has the ability to tell when most people are lying, which makes her very useful during interrogations. She has trouble reading Acton, but when he suggests before they have even had a date that they should solve their individual problems of finding suitable companions by marrying each other, she is shocked - but can tell that he truly means it.

I wondered early on if this was actually a psychological thriller, but as there are already two more books in the series, you can draw your own conclusions. I enjoyed the mystery part of this mystery, and it took some twists I did not expect. Some of the minor characters are fairly well developed. I read a lot of books by British authors and was impressed to come across a number of words and phrases that I did not know (although most of them, like “culchie,”  were from the Irish Doyle). The reference “brides-in-the-bath,” for example, is to an English serial killer case I’d never heard of that is an early example of the use of forensics in solving a crime.

On top of everything else, Acton has a title, so there were references to the British aristocracy on top of the usual SOCOs, DCIs, Evidence Recovery Units, and other terms I expect to find littered throughout police procedurals. Acton and Doyle’s relationship is further complicated beyond the fact that he is her boss because he is an erudite Anglican English Lord and she is an Irish Catholic nobody. Doyle is uneducated and inexperienced but intelligent and sensible. I enjoyed their banter and her way of handling tense situations.

Doyle’s manner of thinking and speaking is charming. She often refers to herself as her “fair self,” her “foolish self,”, her “motherless self,” etc., which I would have thought would have become annoying but did not. She has a healthy self-esteem and feels confident about her ability to deal with Acton’s obsession. She is trying to improve herself and often works in vocabulary words, another habit that could have become annoying but did not. Acton is a highly unprincipled DCI. There is a lot of material for future books in the series. I often smiled at Cleeland’s way with words, including sentences like “Men; honestly.” (p. 90 of the digital edition)

There was a plot point that took place early on but was revealed much later that felt like a cheap trick on the author’s part, and late in the book Doyle insists that Acton have sex with her after something had happened in an exchange that did not feel at all believable to me. But my complaints about the book are small and nit-picky.

The relationship between Acton and Doyle is clearly unhealthy, and I feel a bit conflicted about this book, but I was intrigued all the way through and will definitely read the next book in the series. If you like British police procedurals that feature a romance or morally ambiguous detectives, I recommend Murder in Thrall.

The Galesburg Public Library has the three books in Cleeland’s New Scotland Yard mystery series in both print and digital through eRead Illinois.

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