Raymond Chandler advised that the crime should be a murder because no one would want to read through 300 pages to find the answer to much less. Whatever – the crime or threat needs to be gross or outrageous. Even cosies usually have a murder as a theme – this is about two Hampstead gay couples searching for the natural parents of adopted babies, now 40 years old. Perhaps they might attend a UNISON meeting at the Royal Free Hospital and discuss some real issues? Maybe someone would leave a manhole open on Haverstock Hill and swallow them up? Possibly some crazed, proletarian would penetrate the Heath from Camden Town and shatter their lives? No chance. Why should we care about a bunch of self-absorbed, middle-class, chatterers? To be successful the mystery in the past should present a danger to the present, begin with it and so establish a time limit which creates tension. It takes until the middle of the book for any crime at all to occur and that is some GBH to a secondary character. By this time most readers will have nodded off or cast it aside in frustration. Saz Martin, the investigator of the book, seems to be the sort of person who would drive around the block to go next door. Her key informant is a civil servant working for the Registrar of Births, Marriages and Deaths, as if this was all official secrets. “”There are four other Lillian Hopes registered in Cornwall”” he tells her. Registered for what-Air Miles? Wouldn’t it be better to have someone in a current department, like the Revenue or Social Security than ‘hatching, matching and dispatching’? “”With a few photos and the full name it was an easy step along the electoral register for Saz to locate the one Suzie Planchet resident in London.”” Really, how interesting, considering the electoral register is compiled by street address and held separately by over 30 councils. A phone directory CD might have been a better bet. While there are going to be some dead ends in an investigation there is no need to make a meal of them. Quite a few meals are made in this book-literally and metaphorically. 20 pages and four chapters are spent in a wasted visit to a night club. Details should create expectation not inventory. There are all sorts of other flaws, such as how a senile old man without a computer manages to send e-mails, but the book fails because of the overall lack of tension and interest in solving the ‘crime’. If Val McDermid is right and Stella Duffy ‘gets better with each book’ then I am fortunate in not having read the other three Saz Martins.

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