Dead to Me by Cath Staincliffe introduces an unlikely pairing of female detectives on Manchester's murder squad in a prequel to the U.K.'s Scott & Bailey procedural TV series (available January 14, 2014.)
Sisterhood is powerful.
Constable Rachel Bailey has a plan. Even as she’s freezing her tits off guarding a bleak Manchester crime scene, she’s got her eyes on the prize—a transfer to the Major Incident Team (MIT), where she can use her skills to solve murders. So she wraps her coat tighter around her and thinks…
…nowhere else she’d rather be. Not strictly true – she’d rather be inside the cordon than guarding the periphery. She’d rather be in an MIT syndicate some day. Major Incidents: running a team, catching killers. But there was no shortcut. She had to work her way up, build her portfolio. And she was on track, she allowed herself a little pat on the back. Five years in uniform, nearly five in Sex Crimes. Stepping stones, foundations for the bigger stuff. Rachel did another shuffle, waved her arms to get the circulation going. Times like these she made the best use of, alert to what was required of her, but in the lulls when no one was entering or leaving the scene she practised her definitions. Knowing the law, criminal law, inside out, upside down; because anyone who had to enforce the law needed to understand it. She was practising homicide, murder or manslaughter now. That’s where she wanted next. It was a big jump and they were queuing round the block for opportunities. She just needed a chance, an opening, and she needed to spot it before her competitors.
And then DCI Gill Murray shows up. Gill (aka “Golden girl Gill”) is everything Rachel aspires to be and when Rachel gets a frosty reception when she insists Gill produce identification before entering the crime scene, the junior cop is sure she’s blown her chances for advancement.
But three weeks later Rachel gets a call from DCI Murray:
‘Rachel – Gill Murray.’ Clipped, bossy. Rachel waited for the blow to land. Drew a noose in her notebook. ‘I want you in my syndicate, week on Monday, Chadderton. Shift starts at eight.’
And so a partnership is born, but not between Rachel and Gill. Instead, DCI Murray pairs Rachel up with veteran detective Janet Scott, who is less than enthusiastic about having to deal with a kid who has too much attitude and also resigned to having her own choice not to 'climb the greasy pole' misunderstood by the ambitious younger woman. 'Not long till retirement,' Rachel observes, pegging Janet for someone who’s just putting in her time.
One of the long-running topics of conversation in the crime fiction world is the comparative lack of women writing in the genre and the scarcity of female characters who are not victims. All-female crime fighting duos are even rarer. There’s Cagney and Lacey and Rizzoli and Isles and …who else?
Cath Staincliffe is an outlier; her mysteries are crammed with richly dimensional females who act like real women and not some idealized feminist fantasy or some demonized bitch cliché. Like the DCI heroine of TV's Blue Murder (2003-2009), a long-running crime series previously created by Staincliffe, Janet Scott is a mother as well as a cop and Rachel reminds her too often of her rebellious teenage daughter. Rachel Bailey is emotionally tone deaf and defensive about it: ‘She could do sympathy. Talk nice. She’d seen the videos.’ DCI Gill Murray loves a challenge, but even her enthusiasm is beginning to wilt in the face of a colleague’s total inability to learn from his mistakes.
Rachel and Janet are the cops on point in the investigation into the death of 17-year-old addict Lisa Finn, but Gill is never far from them, orchestrating the elements in a way that Rachel, who calls herself a ‘big picture girl’ admires. The reader will admire it too. This novel is filled with rich procedural detail as well as a cast of characters with enough depth to define a whole series of books set in this world. This novel is, in fact, the prequel to the ITV television series Scott & Bailey, which was created by Sally Wainwright and Diane Taylor and premiered in 2011. The book is so good it will send you searching for the series, episodes of which are available online.
Ladies, it’s nice to meet you.
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Katherine Tomlinson lives in Los Angeles in an apartment where her TBR pile has its own bookcase. She writes dark fiction but has a soft spot for cozy mysteries, heroic fantasy, and horror novels where only bad people get killed. She is the author of the upcoming novel Misbegotten.