Welcome to another edition of In The Spotlight. Some police cases are quite straightforward. A ‘bad guy’ commits a crime, the police investigate the case, and the culprit is caught. Of course, there’s a lot more to it than that, but that’s the basic underlying plot. But not all cases are like that. Some crimes and investigations are morally ambivalent. And in some novels, it’s hard to tell what the right thing is to do. That’s the sort of novel Rachel Abbott’s Only the Innocent is, so let’s turn the spotlight on that novel today.
The novel begins as Detective Chief Inspector (DCI) Tom Douglas and his assistant, Sergeant Becky Robinson, are called to the scene of a murder. Wealthy and well-known philanthropist Hugo Fletcher has been murdered. It’s obvious from the scene of the crime that he was killed during a sexual encounter, so, of course, the first suspect is his wife, Laura. But almost immediately, Douglas and Robinson learn that she was out of the country at the couple’s home in Italy at the time of the murder. In fact, they don’t get the chance to talk to her until she returns.
With not much to go on, Douglas and Robinson begin to look into the victim’s personal and professional lives. For that, they rely on his wife, his ex-wife, Annabelle, and his personal assistant, Jessica Armstrong. Gradually, a picture of him emerges. On the surface, he was a generous, charismatic man. He set up a scholarship fund so that young women who were trafficked into the UK could leave the streets and start new lives. He managed other charities, too, and was well-liked. And, with his money, he had access to a lot of the ‘right people.’
Beneath the surface, though, is a different sort of person. For one thing, the Fletcher marriage was not a happy one, and Douglas is certain that Laura isn’t telling everything she knows about her husband. For another, there are some disturbing financial anomalies that his PA isn’t able (or willing?) to explain. The more deeply the two detectives dig, the more darkness they find. And the more darkness they find, the more possibilities there are of people who would have wanted to kill Fletcher or have him killed. In the end, Douglas and Robinson slowly uncover the truth, and we learn who the killer is. And, as it turns out, it all comes back, as it so often does, to the sort of person Hugo Fletcher was.
In the meantime, Douglas has a personal dilemma. His ex-wife, Kate, wants to come back into his life. He’s certain that a big part of the reason is that he’s come into money, and she wants to help him spend it. But he very much wants to see more of his daughter, Lucy, and Kate has made it clear that she’s thinking of moving out of the area with Lucy. He’s going to have to come to some sort of decision about Kate and Lucy.
There are several elements of the police procedural in the novel. So, readers follow along as Douglas and Robinson make sense of the evidence, deal with forensic reports, fill in their own paperwork, and so on. There are some scenes at the police stations, and we see how Douglas interacts with his colleagues. By and large, he works well with his boss and teammates. There’s none of the backbiting, sabotage, and malice that’s sometimes a part of police procedurals where there are a lot of police politics.
The real story, though, goes beyond the details of what the police do. As the story goes on, we learn about Hugo Fletcher’s backstory and character. Through Laura’s eyes (more about that shortly), we learn how he met her, courted her, and persuaded her to marry him – and how different everything turned out from what she thought.
We also learn about Laura’s family. I can say without spoiling the story that her mother, Stella, and her brother, Will, are a part of her life, and her interactions with them give the reader perspective on her. So do her interactions with her former best friend, Imogen (who is also Will’s ex-wife).
The story is told from several different perspectives (all third person, past tense). So, readers get a ‘bird’s eye view’ of what happens from the point of view of Laura, the two police detectives, and a few of the other characters. Some of the story is also told through a series of letters that Laura writes to Imogen. Through them, we can see the story of the Fletchers’ marriage.
The truth behind the murder is sad, dark and very ugly. It’s not an easy novel to read on that score, and readers who don’t like real darkness in their novels will want to know this. That said, that darkness is much more psychological than it is physical, so there isn’t brutal violence in the story.
As I say, there’s also moral ambivalence in the novel. Several characters are faced with choices that aren’t as simple as they may seem on the surface. Readers who prefer clear-cut ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys’ will notice that it’s not that easy. Readers who enjoy asking, ‘What would I do?’ as they read will appreciate this.
Only the Innocent is the story of one man’s life and murder, and the impact they have on the people around him. It features several different perspectives on the victim, some very disturbing secrets, and a pair of detectives who may not like what they find, but know that they have to get to the truth. But what’s your view? Have you read Only the Innocent? If you have, what elements do you see in it?
Coming Up On In The Spotlight
Monday, 18 February/Tuesday, 19 February – The Blue Hour – Alonso Cueto
Monday, 25 February/Tuesday, 26 February – The Dark Lake – Sarah Bailey
Monday, 4 March/Tuesday, 5 March – Magpie Murders – Anthony Horowitz