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Saturday 17 December 2016

‘Mercy Killing’ by Lisa Cutts

Published by Simon & Schuster,
1 September 2016.
ISBN:  978-1-4711-5310-5 (PB)

Lisa Cutts is a working police officer, and it shows in her writing – though how she has time to do both is the biggest mystery of all. Mercy Killing is a meticulously observed account of a murder investigation, recounted from the points of view of the senior investigating officer DI Harry Powell, his boss, and several members of his team, with incursions into the minds of the suspects as well.

The crime under investigation is the brutal murder of a known paedophile, a man universally despised by the people tasked with seeking his killer. Every detective in the squad would like to shake the killer’s hand, but each is a professional, and personal feelings are laid aside as they carry out their assigned tasks.

There’s no room for doubt that Cutts is telling it how it is: the mountains of paperwork, the division of labour among the detectives in the squad, the additional workload they all carry, the shortage of man- and woman-power, the self-doubt, and the emotional toll some cases, especially this one, can take.

She creates a vivid picture of the background: shabby, cluttered incident room, unwashed coffee mugs, the smell of Chinese takeaway lingering overnight. There’s tension too, largely built by very short chapters left on a question mark, followed by an immediate shift of viewpoint.

The characters are many and varied. Harry Powell’s marriage is in trouble; DC Gabrielle is a loner with issues; DS Sandra is snippy and stand-offish; experienced DC Pierre could tell a tale or two. The downside of such a large cast is that the reader has no one in particular to focus on and empathize with; the plot may be the backbone of a story, but the characters are what holds the reader’s interest. I wanted to know more about them; Cutts’s approach only allows for superficial sketches of potentially interesting people. 

The suspects are drawn in a little more depth, and since a paedophile’s murderer can’t help but  attract a certain sympathy, are all easier to connect with, especially since each one has been directly affected by the paedophile’s activity. Cutts offers five options, and keeps the reader in suspense almost to the end about which is the culprit, holding back just enough information to keep the mystery alive.

If you’re interested in how policing really works, rather than in the pared-down and slightly glamorized version of it to be found in many police procedurals, Mercy Killing will certainly work for you.
Reviewer: Lynne Patrick

Lisa Cutts is the daughter of a former Metropolitan police officer and obtained her first degree in Law, working in a number of jobs in London and around the South East area, before becoming a police officer herself in 1996. She later achieved a second degree in Applied Criminal Investigation. She lives in Kent, where she balances working full-time for Kent Police with writing crime fiction. An extract from Never Forget (now optioned for a major TV drama) won the Writer’s Retreat Competition in 2012. Remember, Remember is the second book in the DC Nina Foster series.

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.  

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