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Saturday 27 May 2017

‘The Silence Between Breaths by Cath Staincliffe

Published by Constable,
4 May 2017.
ISBN: 978-1-47211-801-1 (PB)

They say real life is less credible than fiction; I only wish that were true. As I write this, a major terrorist attack in a public place took place less than twenty-four hours ago, and is all over the news media. The book I'm reviewing has exactly such an attack as its main focus. We're living through darker times than any crime writer could invent.

In recent years Cath Staincliffe has moved away from conventional police-based novels and begun to forge a path through one of crime fiction's less well explored areas: the effect crime has on the people it touches. In The Silence Between Breaths that crime is suicide bombing. That's not a spoiler; it's clear from the outset that something appalling is going to happen, and the details are soon revealed.

The bomber has boarded a busy inter-city train, and plans to do the deed at a mainline station in London. His fellow passengers, at least the ones Staincliffe opts to highlight, are a varied crew in terms of age, background, ethnicity and attitude. There are two young people at the start of their adult lives; the discontented father of a young family; a single mum obliged to leave her child behind for the day; an older woman whose own problems make her more than usually aware of how other people are feeling; an elderly lesbian couple; the train's catering assistant, Asian, as is the bomber. It's a little like a TV soap: some we like, others we like less, one or two we really want to root for.

The bomber himself gets his fair share of attention – as does his feisty young sister, back at home but soon far too aware of his intentions. The part she plays is only one of the ways Cath Staincliffe ratchets up tension. She uses both technique and narrative: short chapters and small cliff-hangers to create pace, and each featured character has a distinct part to play in the drama. Above all, she creates a cohesive story which sweeps the reader along. This is a book which could easily keep you hooked for an hour or two after you meant to be somewhere else – no longer, because it it's a far from a hefty tome, just long enough to allow the horrifying scenario to unfold and...

But anything more really would be a spoiler, and I wouldn't want to say a word that stops another reader from seeking out this book. On this showing, as in her previous work, Cath Staincliffe is truly one of the UK's most undersold crime writers.
Reviewer: Lynne Patrick

Cath Staincliffe was brought up in Bradford and hoped to become an entomologist (insects) then a trapeze artist before settling on acting at the age of eight.  She graduated from Birmingham University with a Drama and Theatre Arts degree and moved to work as a community artist in Manchester where she now lives with her family. Looking for Trouble, published in 1994, launched private eye Sal, a single parent struggling to juggle work and home, onto Manchester’s mean streets.  It was short listed for the Crime Writers Association’s John Creasey best first novel award, serialised on BBC Radio 4, Woman’s Hour and awarded Le Masque de l’Année in France.  Cath has published a further seven Sal Kilkenny mysteries. Cath is also a scriptwriter, creator of ITV’s hit police series, Blue Murder, which ran for five series from 2003 – 2009 starring Caroline Quentin as DCI Janine Lewis.  Cath writes for radio and created the Legacy drama series which features a chalk-and-cheese, brother and sister duo of heir hunters whose searches take them into the past lives of families torn apart by events. Trio, a stand-alone novel, moved away from crime to explore adoption and growing up in the 1960s.  Cath’s own story, of tracing and being re-united with her Irish birth family and her seven brothers and sisters, featured in the television documentary Finding Cath from RTE. Cath is a founder member of Murder Squad, a virtual collective of northern crime writers.  She is an avid reader and likes hill-walking, messing about in the garden and dancing (with far more enthusiasm than grace).
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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