Throughout the series Travis has progressed in her career to become DCI Travis, (Detective Chief Inspector) under the mentorship of James Langton, with whom she has a complex and sometimes turbulent relationship.
Wrongful Death begins with a case expected to go nowhere. Officially ruled to be a suicide, the death of businessman Josh Reynolds takes on unforseen consequences when that ruling is questioned – initially for reasons of bureaucracy (because there are no current legitimate murders to be investigated, and a case is needed to justify allocation of resources to a newly equipped office).
The investigation is both helped and hindered by the arrival of a visiting senior FBI agent, Jesse Dewar, whose methods and lack of restraint cause friction within the investigating team.
Links with the FBI are increased when Langton and Travis are sent to the US to train and liaise with the American agency, and the differing methods and attitudes of US and British law enforcement are contrasted.
I’m not really sure why the story needed the FBI involvement, apart from the sense I got that La Plante wanted to show the superiority of the British police over the US agency.
The American on British soil is brash, impulsive and her tendency to jump to conclusions is a danger to the investigation – even through she’s able to bring important information to light, she would easily undermine everything if not for the restraint enforced by her British colleagues.
Likewise in America, Travis is able to quickly solve a cold case within days of her arrival that had stumped the FBI for a couple of years.
La Plante also takes aim (pardon the pun) at American law enforcement’s reliance on firearms; resolving crimes with fire power instead of slapping on the handcuffs and telling a suspect they are “nicked”, a result Langton says he prefers.
Despite the story’s diversions, this book is just as readable as the others in the series, and kept me guessing a little more than some of the others. Some of La Plante’s work leaves few questions about the identity of a perpetrator. Instead of being who-dunnits, they focus on having to prove the guilt of the only viable suspect.
Wrongful Death is a little different in having variety of plausible suspects for a crime that may not actually have been committed.
An important part of the Travis books takes place within the interview rooms with Travis and/or Langton questioning suspects, and usually after a little cat and mouse interplay, bringing about the result they want. This book continues with that direction, but IF there’s really a crime to solve, could they have met their match with a perpetrator capable of creating such uncertainty?
This might be the last Anna Travis book. It is now 5 years since it was published and since then La Plante has returned to writing Jane Tennison stories, turning the clock back to Tennison’s early days as a WPC.
If Travis does return, the conclusion of Wrongful Death requires that the story dynamics be significantly different in the future. But if there are no more books, the series has ended with a satisfactory sense of closure.