Friday, October 9, 2015
from the UK: Before It's Too Late, by Jane Isaac
Legend Press, 2015
paperback (from publisher, thank you!)
I was well over the halfway mark in this novel when I realized something -- I hadn't seen any swearing, blatant sex or gratuitous violence anywhere. Kudos to the author for that. Not that I mind swearing so much, but I can do without extraneous sex and violence that does little or nothing for or gets in the way of the main story line.
Before It's Too Late is a police procedural on the lighter side. It's not light enough to fall under cozy but not nearly as dark as my normal fare, and much lighter in tone than most of what's out there on bookstore shelves as we speak. There is an angsty main character, DI Will Jackman, who is still grief stricken after an accident that left his wife paralyzed and unable to function. Jackman has a daughter Celia, a university student whose inner strength Jackman relies on at times when his fails. He had moved his family to Stratford-upon-Avon when Celia was young, because it was a "pretty sleepy town when it came to serious crime," but at the moment, the police are currently stumped over a missing person case that turned into murder. Smarting over the lack of information in that case, Jackman finds himself tasked with investigating another young woman gone missing -- a university student named Min Li, whose case becomes "high profile" with quick results expected. Sadly, not much evidence has surfaced in this case either, except for some CCTV footage that may offer clues to her last sighting. But here's the thing -- the reader knows where Min Li is -- her narrative runs through the book parallel to that of the investigation, while the bad guy gets some brief air time here with his story as well. Jackman and his people have to find Min Li as quickly as possible and things become even more urgent when another university student goes missing.
It's a good book that will keep you turning pages to figure out the who; there are a couple of plot twists involved that make the armchair detective's work just a little bit harder. The story isn't overwhelmed with Jackman's angst (a plus); the author gives you just enough information about him to start fleshing him out as a character. Isaac also reveals the nature of "political policing," as ego, ambition and well-placed friendships override one cop's need for solid detective work, which Jackman can't stand; another well-crafted part of this novel is the focus on the Chinese community and how interactions with outsiders actually work. Very nicely done and very insightful. The only thing I wasn't overly fond of was the kidnapped girl's narrative -- first and foremost, it's a bit too melodramatic for my taste and second, well, I can't really explain this one without spoiling things so I'll leave it for others to discover.
I'd say if you've got one foot out the cozy door and are looking to up your crime game without diving headfirst into gritty noir, Before It's Too Late is a fine transition from cutesy to criminal, with enough edginess to make it compelling reading. I appreciate that Ms. Isaac didn't feel the need to add in all manner of extraneous stuff that many modern writers feel is necessary -- she proves that sometimes a good story can be had without trying to attract every possible audience by using all of the usual over-the-top creepy sex and violence that seems to be a mainstay these days. It can be done, folks, and it's a refreshing change.
Again, my thanks to the publisher for my copy.