An Unsafe Pair of Hands, by Chris Dolley

DCI Peter Shand is a trusted and well-liked police detective working at a desk job in London, a "safe pair of hands". Before his promotion, he is transferred to rural Britain to gain some field experience and on his second day gets handed his first murder case.

A body of a woman is found lying in the middle of Stonehenge-like circle of stones. While inspecting the body, a hand shoots out from the ground and grabs his ankle. After some frantic digging he finds an older woman buried under the dead body, still alive thanks to a tube stuck through a cardboard box covering her head. Why would someone bury a woman alive and place the body of another woman on top of the grave, all in the middle of a circle of stones?

Touching air flowA very promising beginning for this crime story, that does not disappoint to the very end, when DCI Shand solves the case and finds the surprising murderer. This is a very enjoyable read, a compelling story that takes us through the ups and downs of Shand’s investigation. False leads and assumptions that create twists in the tale and keep the reader on edge. Set against the social tensions between the original villagers and the new "city incomers", the identity of the murderer remains elusive till almost the very end of the book. That is surely what makes a crime book a good read.

Two things I liked best about this story. First, in most crime books the detective is wreck. His personal life is a shambles or he’s a borderline alcoholic, or both. Shand has some trouble with his "life in the fast lane" wife, but this side of the story does not become a suffocating backdrop to the book, as it all too often does in this genre.

Second, Dolley’s humour. True to British tradition, it is subtle and understated. A second body is found, and the police arrest a chicken. The press have a field day. A psychic by the name of Saffron accompanies Shand’s pursuit of the murderer, much to his irritation. And, most enjoyably, Shand finds himself wrestling with Satan. Not the Devil, but an aptly named dog with a short temper. When his boss hears about this, he comforts Shand: “You can’t blame Satan for everything, Shand. There is such a thing as free will.”

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One thought on “An Unsafe Pair of Hands, by Chris Dolley

  1. Pingback: Reading List « Nafka Mina

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