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Monday 22 July 2019

‘Good Girl, Bad Girl by Michael Robotham

Published by Sphere,
23 July 2019. 
ISBN: 978-0-7515-7345-9 (HB)

So many protagonists in crime fiction are damaged souls that I sometimes wonder if the real novelty might be one with a happy home life and perfect work-life balance. But then I encounter one like Cyrus Haven, and I know exactly why the trope lives on. 

Cyrus is a psychologist, who sometimes works with the police and sometimes outside the world of crime. He brings his own traumatic childhood to bear on his work and finds he can empathize with victims and culprits alike in order to help them or suss out their motivation. He is called in when the murdered body of a teenage girl is found in lonely woodland, and finds himself working with DCI Lenny Parvel, who is part of his own turbulent history.

Another teenage girl has also entered Cyrus's life: Evie Cormac, the care system's worst nightmare. He is asked to represent her in court, and by a quirk of circumstances he finds himself fostering her – and as well as a troubled past, Evie has a healthy curiosity, which she applies to the murder despite Cyrus's best efforts to keep her out of it.

The novel has a nicely convoluted plot and some well evoked locations, including the slightly sinister woodland where the body is found, a squalid drug den and Cyrus's rambling, ramshackle Victorian house. But it's the characters who raise it above the ordinary, even the minor ones, like Guthrie the social worker, overweight and terminally stressed; Jimmy Verbic, multi-millionaire local councillor and Cyrus's saviour in his past life; and DCS Timothy Heller-Smith, Lenny's smooth-talking boss – all three of them possibly part of a future series.

Centre stage are Cyrus himself, of course, Evie, and Lenny Parvel, whose threats to retire I sincerely hope won't be carried out, since she's the kind of detective who places getting justice for victims’ way above ticking boxes and earning kudos. The dead girl's extended family also have the kind of depth that makes you want to weep for them.

Every series needs a backstory, and enough hints are dropped, and threads laid down to form the foundation of a rich and complex one. There are unanswered questions too: what is the significance of Cyrus's wealth of tattoos, and why does he refuse to have a phone? What is Evie's real name, and why won't she divulge it? Minor points in the plot, perhaps, but all part of the ongoing tapestry, and certainly enough to send me in search of more if this book does develop into a series.
Reviewer: Lynne Patrick

Michael Robotham was born 9 November 1960 in Casino, NSW, and went to school in Gundagai and Coffs Harbour. In February 1979 he began a journalism cadetship on The Sun, an afternoon newspaper in Sydney. In 1986, Michael went to London where he worked as a reporter and sub-editor for various UK national newspapers before becoming a staff feature writer on The Mail on Sunday in 1989. He rose to become deputy features editor before resigning in May 1993. He went on to become a ghostwriter, collaborating on fifteen "autobiographies" for people in the arts, politics, the military and sport. Twelve of these titles became Sunday Times bestsellers. In 1996 he returned to Australia with his family and continued writing full-time. In 2002, a partial manuscript of his first novel The Suspect, became the subject of a bidding war at the London Book Fair. It was later translated into 22 languages and sold over a million copies around the world.

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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