Clean Cut, by Lynda La Plante

Lynda La Plante writes strong, straight forward, compelling narratives that concentrate on one or two primary characters. Her style possibly reflects her background in popular TV crime drama.

While her plots have a good share of twists and turns, there is nothing complicated about her writing. I’ve previously described her books as “a page turning roller coaster ride” and that is a big part of why they appeal to me. I’ve found the “ride” starts pretty much from the very beginning of each story and I’m reluctant to get off until I reach the end. Other commitments may mean that I have to put the book down from time to time, but I’ll pick it up again as soon as I can.

My reading of La Plante has mostly been her series about Anna Travis, a detective inspector with a tendency to take her own path during murder investigations, almost compulsively following her intuition to follow up leads even when warned against doing so by her superiors.
One of those superiors is James Langton, a man with whom Travis has a complicated and difficult work (and personal) relationship. In the first book of the series, Above Suspicion, Langton is responsible for giving Travis her introduction to the murder squad to help track down a serial killer, and he assumes the role of her mentor. This book brings increased tension between them and leads to a place where trust between the two seems permanently damaged.

At the beginning of Clean Cut Langton is seriously injured in a vicious machete attack while investigating the murder of a young woman. If he survives it seems likely he’ll have to leave the police force on medical grounds, a possibility he refuses to accept, and so he pushes himself to prove his fitness, motivated in part by the desire to find the man who almost killed him.

People trafficking, voodoo and gruesome killings mix with both departmental and national politics in this book, with the latter tending to jar a bit within the story. I found repeated diatribes against illegal immigrants and lax parole practices, were handled clumsily. While they were relevant to the cases being investigated, the way they were addressed seemed forced and unnatural, not fitting into the story’s flow.

Another part I had a problem with was a statement from a confessed rapist and murderer, “You know, you people think rape is about sex. Of course sex comes into it, but you know what it’s really about? Power.”
While I see the truth in the statement (I once heard a friend who was rape victim say the same thing, that rape was about power and not sex), I wasn’t convinced by such philosophising coming from a rapist himself, or at least with the way it was presented within the context of the story.

These two personal quibbles make me see this book as the weakest of those I’ve read so far. I’m now most of the way through the next of the series and so far haven’t seen a repeat of anything like those problems in my current book (Deadly Intent)

My ongoing journey into crime fiction started with one foot striding in the direction of La Plante followed by the other stepping towards Ann Cleeves. At the moment my reading has become a figurative hop while I’ve stayed with La Plante, wanting nothing more than a driving narrative about a familiar few characters; but I’m eager to return to Cleeves soon, to enjoy her deep richness of character and setting in addition to her compelling story telling.

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