Isabelle Grey’s Good Girls Don’t Die introduces us to DS Grace Fisher, a likeable and vulnerable heroine looking forward to a fresh start on the force in leafy Essex. So much for that.
God grant the blurb the serenity:
You’d know if someone close to you was capable of lethal violence, right?
Accused of grassing up a fellow officer and driven brutally out of home and job, Grace Fisher is thankful to survive some dark times and find haven with the Major Investigation Team in Essex.
One female student is missing, last seen at a popular bar in Colchester. When a second student, also out drinking, is murdered and left grotesquely posed, the case becomes headline news.
Someone is leaking disturbing details to a tabloid crime reporter. Is it the killer? Or a detective close to the case?
With another victim, and under siege by the media, the murder enquiry hits a dead end. The review team brought in to shake things up is headed by Grace’s old DCI. Who is going to listen to her now?
Grace’s new start in Colchester — she’s taken a demotion, so you know she’s anxious to get away from the Kent constabulary — starts well enough, but soon problems with the investigation begin to pile up around her as the tabloid press begins to stick its nose in, and her own ghosts from the past come back to haunt her.
Grace is an empathetic and vulnerable character, reserved and cautious, still desperately hurt by former friends and colleagues closing ranks against her, and desperate to start again. Layers of her personality are peeled away as we discover more about her flight from Maidstone.
The fact that she can’t remember if she’s inadvertently leaked information to the press on a drunken night out only makes her more human, and this possible indiscretion places her in an almost untenable position, particularly when one of her former managers — with whom she has a fractious relationship — reappears on the scene.
There’s a lot of internal office politics in Good Girls, as Grace tries to find her place amid the Murder Investigation Team. It’s funny how we increasingly demand that our procedurals become a macabre mirror image of own frustrating journey through the world of work — but without, you know, the violent murders and everything.
But Grace isn’t the only protag on the block, and Grey sows the seeds for an unlikely partnership in later novels with the introduction of the wonderfully named Ivo Sweatman. He’s Grace’s flipside — where she’s idealistic and moralistic, Sweatman is a reprehensible rascal.
When we first meet him, Ivo is a pantomime hack, a predatory Fleet Street veteran, who swoops in to manipulate local newspaper girl Roxanne, Grace’s only friend in the town. Ivo, The Courier’s star crime reporter, is a wrong ‘un by anybody’s standards, but his wry commentary on the investigation, and his increasing interest in the Ice Maiden, as he calls Grace, leads him on a curious journey towards a kind of redemption.
There’s a lot to like in Good Girls. The pacing could be tweaked — Grace’s work troubles sometimes gobble up pages where you sometimes want to get back to the ongoing murder investigation — and Grey is somewhat parsimonious on the line-up of suspects, but the writing is fluid and enthralling. You feel in safe hands when you’re reading it.
Grey is a television writer as well as a novelist, and she adds flavoursome touches of character – Ivo and his twelve step meetings, for example — and there’s a hot-off-the-presses feel to its background of academic sexual harassment and post-Leveson paranoia. Fisher is a great heroine — resourceful and resilient — and there’s a terrific and believable, supporting cast.
Thanks to Quercus for the review copy.
So, look — hold the front page! — I’m delighted to say that next week Isabelle is doing a Guest Post for Crime Thriller Fella about how she went about the business of building a new series of procedurals from scratch. If you want to know how professional authors go about it, you’ll really want to read it!