Blunt Force by Lynda La Plante

Blunt Force Cover

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 ForceBlunt 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.

Murder Mile by Lynda La Plante

Murder Mile Cover.jpg

Publisher: Zaffre

Publication Date – 23 August 2018

 

One of English crime fiction’s most distinctive voices, Lynda La Plante, returns with her iconic female detective, Jane Tennison, for another dark and shocking case.

In February 1979, recently promoted Detective Sergeant Jane Tennison has been posted to Peckham CID, one of the toughest beats in all of London.  Previously known as the Golden Mile due to its well-to-do shopping areas, the area is now in decline, a fact not helped by the garbage strikes besetting the entire city, ensuring that the entire area is covered rubbish and filth.

When the body of a young woman is found in the heart of Peckham, Jane and her team must investigate the suspicious circumstances surrounding her death.  But when another body is found nearby, the possibility of a serial killer raises all sorts of problems.  The media scrutinise the case and rename the area Murder Mile.  Even worse, the second victim’s son is well connected, and several important people want the matter dealt with quickly.

As more bodies are uncovered, Tennison must use all of her investigative ability to uncover this dark murderer, while also dealing with the police force’s inherent sexism and disregard for her talent that she has dealt with her entire career.  Can Tennison catch this killer, or will they find a terrible and unexpected way to win?

Lynda La Plante is a talented author and screenwriter responsible for several hit British crime series and movies.  She achieved early success with the 1983 television series, Widows, which has been adapted into a major motion picture set to be released in November this year.  Other successful shows that La Plante has created include Trial and Retribution and Above Suspicion, with nearly all of her books having been either adapted into screenplays or inspired by one of her televisions shows.  Murder Mile is the fourth book in her Jane Tennison series, which serves as a prequel series to one of La Plante’s most successful and iconic shows, Prime Suspect, which features Helen Mirren as an older Jane Tennison.  The first book in this prequel series, Tennison, also served as the basis for the short-lived prequel television series Prime Suspect 1973.

Murder Mile features a dark and disturbing mystery that serves as the central focus of this book.  The protagonist must investigate a series of murders spread out among the dilapidated Peckham area. La Plante has created an intriguing and compelling investigation storyline as Tennison and her team follow a series of promising leads across Peckham and the rest of London, finding clues in a variety of places, as well as several other bodies.  While the majority of the book leading up the conclusion of the story and the solution of the mystery is captivating in its own right, the best part of the book has to be its chilling conclusion.  Not only is the revealed antagonist a despicable creature, but the way in which they attempt to manipulate Jane and the rest of the police characters is just plain creepy.  The conclusion of the story and the ultimate reveal of the antagonist’s last actions are particularly shocking in their execution and extent.  Worse, both the reader and the protagonist can see that the villain is planning something, but you just cannot predict the terrible lengths they will go to win and spite the police.  This memorable conclusion serves as the perfect end to this dark and powerful story and represents some excellent writing from La Plante.

This story is set in 1970s London, and the author does a fantastic job bringing this iconic city to life during a period of economic downturn.  There is a certain gloom around the city, especially in Peckham, where the majority of the book’s investigation takes place.  The plot of Murder Mile is set during the infamous Winter of Discontent, a period of strikes and financial uncertainty that hit the country during 1978 and 1979.  There are several discussions about the situation from the characters and it is interesting to see a fictional perspective of this part of England’s recent history.  In addition, some of the physical effects of the ‘Winter of Discontent’ have some significant impacts on the case.  During January and February 1979, the waste collectors of London were on strike, resulting in a build-up of rubbish throughout the city.  As a result, many of the scenes set in the city feature streets strewn with garbage and littered with filth and rats.  La Plante also examines the parks that were filled with rubbish by London authorities as a stopgap measure for this situation.  This becomes particularly important in the story, as the police discover a dismembered body in one of these parks as the murderer attempted to utilise the situation for their own ends.  The author has also cleverly highlighted the police techniques and technologies that would have been available during the time.  Overall, La Plante has made full use of this chaotic period in Murder Mile, and readers will enjoy her vivid descriptions of these events.

In addition to the general descriptions of 1970s England, one of the key features of La Plante’s latest book is an examination of the inherent sexism in the London police force.  Jane as a Detective Sergeant must continue to fight to gain respect from her co-workers.  In Murder Mile she is constantly talked down to by her superiors, deals with disrespectful comments from the rank-and-file police, and must also deal with having her authority undercut by colleagues she considers to be her friends as they step in quickly to defend her.  It is infuriating to see how senior police ignore Tennison’s detective work and observations, especially as she is right most of the time.  This sexism also requires Tennison to act in a more maverick way, as her frustrations force her to work outside the main police investigation in order to prove herself – a decision that will have significant impacts on her life and career.

While the portrayal of sexism mentioned above has been used in all of the books of the Jane Tennison series, in Murder Mile La Plante has chosen to also focus on police homophobia and how it affects the investigation.  The police homophobia is quite prevalent throughout the series, especially when one of the suspects is revealed to be gay.  The police response to this is extreme, as several of the characters are quite hostile to this suspect and his relatives, alienating potentially helpful people in the investigation.  In addition, there is the stupid assumption that all homosexual males were automatically paedophiles, and this sends the investigation into several biased directions.  Tennison and several of the other characters attempt to change the minds of their colleagues, often without much success.  In addition, one of the more approachable and capable members of the police team is revealed to be homosexual in this book, which serves as a good counterpoint to the more old school and homophobic cops.  Overall, this is an intense and important part of the story, and it is intriguing to see how these old biases would likely have affected cases in the past.

Crime legend Lynda La Plante returns in fantastic form with Murder Mile, an exciting continuation of her Prime Suspect prequel series.  Featuring some deep and powerful examinations of the 1970s London police force, this absorbing mystery takes its readers to the edge of darkness and beyond.  Featuring an incredibly dark and unforgettable ending, Murder Mile is another exceptional release from La Plante and a highly recommend piece of crime fiction.

My Rating:

Four and a half stars