Mari Hannah is a writer from the North-East whose first book, The Murder Wall, was released in paperback last week. She was signing copies signing copies in Newcastle, so I sent Mr. Mouse along to get me a copy. Set in Newcastle, Hannah’s début is a taut police procedural, centred around the complicated D.C.I. Kate Daniels and her team.
When Daniels visits her local church to light a candle for her recently deceased mother and discovers the victims of a double murder, she vows to catch the killer, no matter how long it takes. 11 months later and the investigation has ground to a halt, leaving Daniels feeling like a failure, whilst still haunted by what she saw in St. Camillus. When she is made the Senior Investigating Officer for a shooting on the Quayside, she jumps at the chance, hoping that she can make amends for the lack of closure in the previous case. However, the case doesn’t get off to the best start when she fails to disclose that she knows the victim, Alan Stephens, and it quickly gets more and more complicated for Daniels.
Much of the narrative focuses on Daniels, and thankfully she is a great character. She’s clever, brilliant at her job but also, crucially, she is far from perfect. Her private life is a mess, the Assistant Chief Commissioner hates her and, as a result of the St. Camillus murders, she is increasingly prone to ignoring protocol and working by herself. Her team is also peopled with properly fleshed-out characters, especially her favourite sergeant, Hank Gormley. Like his boss, his home life is falling apart due to the hours he gives to his job so he stays at work longer, in a vicious circle that has been seen many times in detectives before. Daniels’ immediate boss, Chief Superintendent Bright, is also a character who has been allowed a fair amount of ‘screen time’ throughout the novel. He is Daniels’ mentor and has always supported her decisions, but this case might be the one to tear them apart, as he resents her relationship with another member of the team.
Alternated with the narrative following Daniels and her team is another which focuses on the killer. The contrast between the two is well-drawn, and Hannah has a truly hideous creation in the vicious and sadistic villain. His motivations are slowly revealed as the story goes on, with information being drip-fed to the reader until the police work out who it is, when the pace suddenly accelerates towards the climax of the novel.
Hannah has a background in scriptwriting, and it shows. The chapters are short and snappy, keeping the story moving, and allowing the narrative to jump between characters without losing momentum. My only real criticism is that there are occasionally unnecessary repetitions of information; for example, I’m not convinced that we need to be told quite so many times that Bright is drinking too much, or that Daniels has ruined her relationship with her lover. However, this is a tiny negative in an otherwise neat example of a police procedural.