Laughton Rees (her first name is explained late in the book) has been estranged from her police commissioner father since her mother was murdered when she was fifteen. The murderer was McVey a man whose alleged crimes involved rape and murder of little girls. Rees was head of the investigation that led to McVey’s arrest for these front page crimes. But he was released and the charges were dismissed against him. Still, someone leaked his name while he was locked up. He claimed to his dying day, that he was innocent but driven mad by the resulting negative publicity.
Laughton, is now the single mother of a fifteen year old Gracie. At some point in her life, on the advice of a therapist, she spent time looking into the details of the police investigation and conviction of McVey for her mother’s murder. This led to an interest in criminology. Laughton wrote “the” book on forensically processing a crime scene and now her book has shown up at the scene of Kate Miller’s murder. Laughton’s work exclusively involves old, closed out cases, never active ones. She lectures on criminology and has a huge following. But she is very private. She has significant obsessive behaviors centering on the number three. She is very protective of Gracie and very closed with her about her mental health issues and any details relating to her mother’s murder.. (Laughton, for me, is one of the more interesting new protagonists to show up in a series in awhile, and this is the first book in the Laughton Rees series. YAY!) So Kate Miller is dead and Mike Miller is missing. Their home with an impregnable security system was breached. They seem to have sprung up from nowhere a year ago. Tannahill Khan, a young Irish-Pakistani DCI catches the case.
Reporter Brian Slade is a the son of a former London cop who was forced out during a cleanup of the force to rid it of abusive and corrupt officers. He is a star writer for “The Daily” a sensation driven rag and he does a mean job staying on the cutting edge of his stories through payoffs, a bit of bullying and a lot of arrogance. He hates Commissioner Rees. Someone with inside knowledge sends Slade information about the Miller case before he should get it. Both Slade and Khan want Laughton to work with them on the Miller case.
And off we go into a tangled investigation of a brutal, bloody stabbing, a strangely staged crime scene that is totally “clean” from a forensics point of view. Who are the Millers who live in a multi-million pound modern behemoth next to a Victorian era graveyard? Where is Mike Miller? Does anyone know about their relationship, enemies, the source of their money? Laughton certainly has learned that her book was found facedown at the scene. Will she been drawn into the helping Slade, given his hostility to her father? Will she help Khan/the police given her expertise and gift for finding what matter in a criminal investigations? She is focused on a serious problem with Gracie and whether to change her school. Also she is stressed about how to afford a new school.
I have not previously read Toyne’s other (best selling) work, but I will. First, development of characters matters a lot to me and he deftly draws even the most minor walk-on to create a recognizable personality and some great back stories. Khan is an appealing guy, living in a tiny studio type apartment that he intended to quickly replace but never did, eating miso soup and lying to his Irish mother about what he eats and how much he’s working. He wears his Pakistani half in his features so deals at times with harassment, but is obviously respected at his job. Even the cleaning lady who discovered the body is someone whose values, likes and dislikes make up a person we recognize and understand. Second, his writing is impeccable. It flows, is descriptive where it should be and moves along briskly other times. The story remains engaging and one never has to go back to figure out what just happened or what someone meant. His dialogue is great as is his ability to create images/scenes, like that of an old decommissioned police station or the Miller’s house. It’s not that he says a lot. It’s just well done. Finally, plot. This is a police procedural and Toyne checks all the boxes, giving us the information we need to solve this but not giving it away.
I thoroughly enjoyed this novel and highly recommend it!