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Friday 2 June 2023

‘If I Were Me’ by Paul Durston

Published by Diamond Books,
4 October 2022.
ISBN: 978-1-91564917-1 (PB)

In one way Paul Durston’s debut novel is an easy read, as his short and staccato style keeps the story rattling along. In other ways, though, it is far from an easy read, with difficult and unsettling subjects at its core.

In the arresting opening PC Charlie Quinlan is badly injured, physically and increasingly mentally, as she tries to rescue a boy from a burning car. During her rehabilitation she suffers lapses of memory which she does not want to admit to for fear of being retired on medical grounds. Events lead to her further confusion. A man is murdered, and a phone call implicates Charlie despite her having an unshakeable alibi. A second murder, for which she also has an alibi, and its consequent phone call, leads to her arrest, interrogation and suspension from duty.

Charlie teams up with Wade, a failing young policeman, and starts to investigate the two murders. This leads her to people and events from a difficult and traumatic childhood. Her mental health starts to suffer even more as a result of being forcibly reminded of this part of her life. ‘I don’t know what to think,’ she says. ‘I’m adrift, being drawn into a whirlpool and there’s nothing I can do. My life has been ripped away.’

The novel is gripping, as much as a study of a particular mental health condition (or perhaps conditions) as it is an investigation of two murders. I’ll be the first to admit that if I picked it up in a bookshop and read the publisher’s blurb on the back cover, I would probably not buy it (I generally like an easier reading life!) – but I’d be wrong. Yes, it deals with uncomfortable subjects in a forthright manner, but the story is compulsively readable, possibly because most of us cannot have any appreciation of the specific condition that is affecting Charlie and we want to discover more. And I’m still unsure whether I’ve grasped the significance of the dramatic final scene. Is it a conclusion? Is it redemption? Perhaps that is deliberate, and perhaps, when you’ve read it, you will tell me.
Reviewer: David Whittle

Paul Durston. 1 retired from the Metropolitan Police Service back in 2012. In the View of a Constable was published when it wasn't ready. No one's fault except mine. If you do have a copy, please consider it a first draft of If I Were Me. I owe so much to Diamond Books who showed faith in my work and helped me get my book into a fit state for publishing.

David Whittle is firstly a musician (he is an organist and was Director of Music at Leicester Grammar School for over 30 years) but has always enjoyed crime fiction. This led him to write a biography of the composer Bruce Montgomery who is better known to lovers of crime fiction as Edmund Crispin, about whom he gives talks now and then. He is currently convenor of the Midlands Chapter of the Crime Writers’ Association

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