Welcome to another edition of In The Spotlight. Sharon Bolton (who’s also written as S.J. Bolton) has gotten quite a lot of recognition. She’s written several standalones, but she’s gotten perhaps the most notice for her series featuring Lacey Flint. Let’s take a look at Bolton’s writing and turn today’s spotlight on A Dark and Twisted Tide, the fourth in her Lacey Flint series.
Recent events (See Like This Forever (AKA Lost) for the details) have convinced DC Lacey Flint to leave the Homicide Unit and get back into uniform. So she has transferred to the Marine Unit, where she’s hoping to do the regular and less stressful work of checking licenses, warning boaters about unsafe conditions, and so on. She’s gotten her own houseboat, too, on Deptford Creek, and has joined the community of those who live along the canals of the Thames.
One morning, she’s swimming in the Thames (something that’s risky enough in itself) when she discovers a body. Forensics tests show that it’s the body of a young woman, probably Middle Eastern or South Asian. And it doesn’t take long to establish that she probably drowned. What’s more, it was not a suicide. There’s evidence that it might have been a ritual killing; but even if it’s not, it’s most likely homicide. As if that isn’t disturbing enough, there’s a very good possibility that the body was left deliberately where Flint would find it. So, someone may either be targeting her, or trying to find a way to confess.
Other strange and unsettling things also happen, all of them seeming to show that someone, possibly the killer, has a particular interest in Flint. In the meantime, it looks as though the murder the team is investigating may be linked to another death. So, despite her determination to step away from investigating murders, Flint finds herself drawn into this case.
Since this is now a homicide investigation, Flint begins to work with DI Dana Tulloch and her team at the Met as well as with the Marine Unit. The more information they get, more certain they are that this could be much more complicated than they thought – and much more dangerous for Flint.
Like the other Lacey Flint novels, this one’s got a strong sense of the police procedural. There are briefings, interviews with witnesses and ‘people of interest,’ and so on. Readers follow along as the police make sense of forensic evidence and use other clues, too, to close in on the killer. In this case, we also see an interesting situation where there’s cooperation between the Tulloch’s Homicide Unit and the Marine Unit, which is headed by DCI Dave Cook. Given the nature of the investigation, that makes sense. The two teams work well together, with Flint a part of both teams, even though she’s nominally only a part of the Marine Unit. There’s some almost good-natured commentary about which squad’s budget will be tapped for some of the operations, but there aren’t the ‘patch wars’ we sometimes see in police procedurals. And there is camaraderie among the police.
Much of the action takes place on and near the Thames and its creeks and other tributaries. So the river itself is a very important element in the novel. It can be beautiful and very dangerous, and there are parts of it that most people never get to see. Here, in fact, is what Bolton herself says in the Author’s Note:
‘Please do NOT swim in the tidal Thames…The Thames is deep, fast and dangerous. As is Deptford Creek.’
As trite as it sounds, it’s not so far wrong to say that the river is almost another character in the story.
There are several sub-plots in this novel, and they form another important element in it. For example, Tulloch and her long-time partner, Helen Rowley, have decided they want to become parents. Readers follow along as they investigate fertility clinics and other options for having children. There’s also a sub-plot that concerns Flint’s romantic interest, DI Mark Joesbury, who’s gone undercover on a special operation. Readers who prefer just one main plot will notice this.
There’s also the character of Lacey Flint herself. As fans know, she has her own past issues and secrets to deal with, and they play their role here. She is independent and sometimes reckless (even her creator admits that). But she’s not a stereotypical ‘maverick copper who can’t work with anyone.’ In general, she sees herself as part of a unit, and understands her responsibility to the people in it. She has a solid relationship with both Cook and Tulloch, too, and it’s obvious that each respects her and vice versa.
This is the fourth novel in the Lacey Flint series, so there are some story arcs that come up in it. References are made to earlier novels, too. Readers who like to follow a series from the beginning, and who aren’t familiar with this series, will notice that. The mystery itself, though – the deaths and what’s behind them – are self-contained, so that it’s not difficult for a reader new to the series to follow along.
The story is told from multiple points of view, including Flint’s, Tulloch’s, and others. Those who prefer only one point of view will notice this change in perspectives. That said, though, each chapter is identified by the name of the person/people whose point(s) of view are being shared. It’s worth noting that the same is true of the timeline. Whenever the timeline shifts from current events (which it does in some places), it’s made clear.
A Dark and Twisted Tide is the story of some unusual deaths, and the two teams of police who investigate them. It’s set against the backdrop of one of the world’s most famous rivers, and features a complex and layered protagonist who’s finding her way as a member of the police force. But what’s your view? Have you read A Dark and Twisted Tide? If you have, what elements do you see in it?
Coming Up On In The Spotlight
Monday, 11 April/Tuesday, 12 April – Unidentified Woman #15 – David Housewright
Monday, 18 April/Tuesday, 19 April – The Page Three Murders – Kalpana Swaminathan
Monday, 25 April/Tuesday, 26 April – The Cask – Freeman Wills Crofts