RogerBW's Blog

Pray and Die, Stella Whitelaw 16 October 2015

2000 mystery, first in Whitelaw's Jordan Lacey series. Asthmatic ex-policewoman Jordan Lacey starts a private investigation business in the seaside town of Latching, West Sussex. Will there be enough work to pay the bills? Surprisingly, yes.

This book takes a refreshingly sideways approach to detective fiction. Sure, we've seen the former cop turned private investigator before, but Jordan isn't on cordial terms with her former colleagues; rather, they don't take her particularly seriously. She's not a great investigator, though she has some skills (her talent for disguise is better in her mind than in reality, but she does remember how to get out of a grapple). And she's hopelessly in lust with the new Detective Inspector, while other men keep dangling after her. It's a sort of low-key British seaside tart noir.

And rather enjoyable, in all. The cases are pleasingly complex: Jordan is hired to investigate some poison-pen letters to a nasty woman whose own story doesn't hold up on a bit of investigation; and while exploring an abandoned hotel, she finds the body of a nun hanging on a meat-hook. They're clearly very different sorts of wrongdoing, and the latter is obviously a police matter, but could they end up being connected? Later on, someone makes attempts on Jordan's life.

Those attempts, especially the last, feel like set-pieces more than serious murder attempts; they're big and flashy and implausible, and would make great moments in the trailer for the film of the book, but they don't really fit with the rest of what's going on. There's a similarly implausible bit of corpse-manipulation, though even without guessing what went on there it's not too hard to work out where the villainy is coming from.

There are minor setting problems for the year 2000: only one character has a mobile phone, and Jordan appears to be producing her reports on a typewriter by choice. Still, Whitelaw has been published since the 1970s.

Jordan is really the only developed character here, and even she's quite thin though a few others have their moments (a confrontational scene in a café is particularly well handled). Jordan's endless pining over DI James seems, frankly, a bit extreme for a grown woman, especially as he's clearly not interested.

A strange book, and I'm curious to find out where the series goes next. Followed by Wave and Die.

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