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Wednesday, 14 May 2014
‘Under a Silent Moon’ by Elizabeth Haynes
Getting the procedural details right in a novel which focuses on a police investigation has to be one of the biggest challenges which faces a crime writer. Real-life detectives are often seen to roll their eyes despairingly at how inaccurate fictional representations of their job can be. And of course one of the problems is that a great deal of police work involves endless footslogging, and sifting useful evidence out of mountains of material which has to be collected but ultimately proves irrelevant – and neither tramping the streets nor paperwork is exactly the stuff of gripping storytelling. Elizabeth Haynes is more familiar with the inner workings of an incident room than many authors; until recently she worked as an intelligence analyst for the police. And if you don’t know what an intelligence analyst does, you need to read Under the Silent Moon.
It’s her fourth novel, and has the makings of the first in a series featuring a major incident team led by DCI Louisa Smith. What sets it apart from the usual run of action-packed police dramas is the powerful sense that this is really how it works: not a small band of regulars who take on one investigation after another, but a motley team of detectives, and suitably qualified lay support staff, plus input from various specialist departments, pulled together to investigate a specific crime, all subject to availability, budgets and outside pressures.
Another difference is the inclusion of documents such as witness statements, e-mails, forensic reports and analyst’s charts, designed to allow the reader to pick through the evidence and follow the trail along with the detectives. And in case you were wondering, the job of the intelligence analyst is to map various information as it comes in, create timelines and look for connections and anomalies.
Somehow, and I’m still not sure how, Elizabeth Haynes makes it work. It shouldn’t; the adherence to real-time progress of the investigation, the inclusion of so much paperwork and other detail, should slow the pace to a walk and clutter the reader’s mind to the point of confusion. But it doesn’t. It moves swiftly, and there’s a clear narrative line with plenty of tension. I was gripped from the outset, as key occurrences or pieces of evidence kept popping up before my attention had a chance to flag.
It helps that the action shifts away from the police and to witnesses or suspects from time to time, so that the reader always knows a little more than the detectives. Haynes’s sharp eye for character is also a major plus point; despite the wealth of names and minor players, it’s always plain who we’re meant to follow. And the leading characters have lives and feelings which impact on the investigation in some way.
It’s a fine balancing act between creating a story with enough drama and action to hold the attention, and describing what would really happen when two suspicious deaths occur in the same village within hours of each other. Elizabeth Haynes doesn’t falter.
Reviewer: Lynne Patrick
Elizabeth Haynes is a police intelligence analyst. She started writing fiction in 2006 thanks to the annual challenge of National Novel Writing Month (Nanowrimo) and the encouragement of the creative writing courses at West Dean College. She lives in a village near Maidstone, Kent, with her husband and son.
Lynne Patrick has been a writer ever since she could pick up a pen, and has enjoyed success with short stories, reviews and feature journalism, but never, alas, with a novel. She crossed to the dark side to become a publisher for a few years, and is proud to have launched several careers which are now burgeoning. She lives on the edge of rural Derbyshire in a house groaning with books, about half of them crime fiction.