Publisher: Zaffre (Trade Paperback -25 August 2020)
Series: Tennison – Book Six
Length: 415 pages
My Rating: 4.25 out of 5 stars
The leading lady of crime fiction, Lynda La Plante, returns with another compelling entry in her excellent Tennison series, Blunt Force.
Lynda La Plante is a talented screenwriter and author who has been a leading figure in crime fiction since the 1980s with her combination of enjoyable novels and popular television shows and movies. Some of her notable works include Widows, which has been alternatively a novel, a television series and a film, the Trial and Retribution television series, and several other novels that have been inspired by La Plante’s various television shows, specials or films. Perhaps her most impressive piece of fiction is the iconic British television series, Prime Suspect, which ran in the early 1990s (with follow-up seasons running in 2003 and 2006), starring Helen Mirren as the lead character, Jane Tennison. This show was immensely popular, and in recent years La Plante has started revisiting the character by doing a series of prequel novels that follow a young Jane Tennison in the 1970s and 80s, starting with 2015’s Tennison. Not only did Tennison inspire the Prime Suspect 1973 television series but it was also resulted in several sequel novels. I have been rather enjoying this series over the last couple of years (check out my reviews for Good Friday, Murder Mile and The Dirty Dozen), and I was excited when I recently received my copy of the sixth book in the series, Blunt Force. Blunt Force is set in the early 1980s and continues to follow Tennison on her journey to become the respected investigator we see in the original television show.
After being unfairly kicked out of the high-profile Flying Squad, Detective Sergeant Jane Tennison’s career is on a downward trajectory. Assigned to the sleepy police station of Gerald Road in London’s affluent Knightsbridge area, Jane must content with working petty crimes and minor offenses. However, a good murder is always just around the corner for Jane, as a gruesome and bloody crime scene is discovered on her beat containing a brutally disembowelled body.
The victim, Charlie Foxley, was a well-known celebrity agent, representing a multitude of the richest and most influential actors, models and writers on the planet. However, he was also a cruel and vindictive man whose ruthless business practices, sordid personal life and complicated familiar bonds leaves behind a raft of potential suspects who each had a very real reason to kill him. In order to catch this murderer, Jane and her colleagues will need to dive into the dazzling world of show business to find out more about their victim. But not everything is as innocent or glamorous as it first appears, and Jane must get to the bottom of Foxley’s dodgy dealings if she is to solve the case.
La Plante has once again produced an exciting and compelling crime fiction novel that explores the earlier life of her long-running protagonist. This a particularly great read that combines a fantastic and clever murder mystery with an intriguing historical period and La Plante’s trademark examination of sexism in the London police force. Just like the prior books in the series, Blunt Force is an extremely accessible novel and readers who are unfamiliar with the previous Tennison novels or the Prime Suspect television series can easily dive into this story without any issues. That being said, established La Plante/Prime Suspect fans will no doubt really enjoy seeing how Jane’s character continues to evolve throughout the course of the series as well as witnessing her investigate another significant case from earlier in her career.
Blunt Force mainly revolves around the brutal murder of a celebrity agent who is found butchered in his apartment. This leads to quite an intense and elaborate murder investigation as Tennison and her colleagues dive into the life of the deceased agent and attempt to find out who killed him. The case goes into some very interesting directions as La Plante loads up the book with a ton of plausible misleads, multiple potential suspects with compelling motives, conflicting police politics and a whole load of misdirects. This includes a collection of duplicitous celebrities and rival agents, shady characters who the victim had dealings with and a particularly unhinged ex-wife who is definitely hiding something. The story follows Tennison and several of her fellow detectives as they methodically examine each new lead that comes up. I liked the realistic and evenly paced investigation storyline, with police slowly working their way through suspects by questioning them multiple times, collecting and analysing new evidence and looking for inconsistencies in stories and claims. The eventual solution for the murder turned out to be quite clever, and I liked how it required Tennison to dive deep into the victim’s life and profession to come up with a hidden motivation. The author ensures there is some decent foreshadowing about who the killer is, although I did not see the eventual reveal coming, and I was quite satisfied with the result. Overall, this was a fantastic murder mystery storyline and I had an amazing time seeing it all come together.
As with the rest of the novels in the Tennison series, La Plante uses Blunt Force to explore and critique the historical institutional sexism that existed within the Metropolitan police. This is always a fascinating and relevant element to the story, and La Plante does a fantastic job showing both overt and more subtle examples of what Tennison has to go through as one of the few female detectives in the force at this time. There are several notable inclusions in this novel, from Jane being unfairly dismissed from the Flying Squad, the condescension of her peers, rumours of the reasons why she left the Flying Squad being spread around the office and some new superiors doubting her ability and observations as a result. However, one of the most noticeable elements of this is the disconnect between Jane and her colleagues over investigating elements of the motive for the murder. Through the course of her work, Jane is able to identify the real reason Foxley is killed and wants to further investigate that, as well as attempting to help/find another potential victim. However, her male colleagues, more concerned with the big, glamorous murder, ignore this part of the case, leaving Jane frustrated and a little disenchanted with her colleagues. I really appreciated these scenes within Blunt Force, especially as La Plante writes them extremely well and it was a distinctive and compelling part of the story.
In addition to this there is also a rather intriguing subplot that deals with Tennison getting involved with the infamous Operation Countryman. Operation Countryman was an anti-police-corruption investigation that ran in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and featured members of rural police forces investigating the London police. This investigation has been mentioned and discussed several times in the previous Tennison novels, especially in the prior book The Dirty Dozen, and it finally comes to a head in Blunt Force. Throughout the course of this book Jane is approached and recruited by members of Operation Countryman due to her work with the Flying Squad and some of the corruption that was implied in the prior books. This proves to be a really fascinating part of the story, especially as La Plante cleverly brings in events from previous Tennison adventures, revealing some fantastic forward planning on her part, as well as tying this storyline into some of the real-life targets of the operation. I also liked how this tied into the rest of the narrative contained within Blunt Force, as much of the protagonist’s motivation to help remove a certain corrupt cop could be attributed to her frustrations with the main investigation. This was a very interesting part of the story, and I look forward to seeing if La Plante features more of Operation Countryman in her future novels, perhaps showing what sort of backlash Tennison faces from her colleagues for assisting the operation take down a fellow cop.
The always impressive Lynda La Plante has once again delivered an exciting and captivating novel with Blunt Force. This was a fantastic book that not only contains a gripping and clever murder mystery but which continues the dramatic and intriguing tale of one of La Plante’s most iconic protagonists, Jane Tennison. This was an amazing entry in the Tennison series, and I look forward to seeing what crime the protagonist finds herself involved with next year.
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