Having a synesthete as his detective initially made me a little suspicious – is this cynically playing for the quirky TV market ala Monk? However this condition is only relevant now and then and hardly swamps the story, the character or the case (while it helped, I think he could have solved the crime without it – when characters lied there were other indicators than red squares – and that line something like, “I’d already guessed that she was lying, but it was nice to have a second opinion” could have fitted generally). Moreover what’s wrong with a bit of quirkiness? There is some reason for the popularity of these characters.
Robbie Brownlaw *is* deliberately too good to be true – especially with the ladies. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’d worked on his ‘listening face’ – what about the scene where his wife is introduced! Brownlaw comes in after a hard day’s work to find his wife Gina:
…had already left. Her note said that she’d be with Rachel … just dinner was all, and maybe one drink after…
He makes himself dinner, and, instead of her arriving when she said,
… Gina got in late and hungry so I whipped up an omelette with bacon and cheese and made some guacamole for the top of it. She stood in the kitchen and told me about her evening and drank a vodka on the rocks while I cooked… Her soft red hair was up but some of it fell over her face and down her neck and I kissed her. I smelled perfume and smoke and alcohol but tasted only my wife. There is no other taste like it… She giggled softly and pulled back… “Wow, that omelette looks good!” she said, swaying on her way to the breakfast nook.
By the time I got the pan soaking and the dishes rinsed, Gina was in bed. I lifted the covers and settled them on her shoulders. I remembered doing very much the same just that morning… Her snoring was rhythmic and peaceful. I held her close. After a few minutes she gasped and turned her head away from my chest, breathing deeply and rapidly, as if she’d been running.
I placed a hand on her hot, damp head and told her she’d be okay, just a bad dream or maybe a little too much to drink. I lifted a handful of her hair and blew on her neck. A minute later she was snoring again.
Parker has to be making a point with this girl porn (”By the time I got the pan soaking and the dishes rinsed,” indeed), and it is foregrounded by other characters commenting on what a supremely nice a guy he is. Actually thinking about it there’s a bit of a theme here, with the other silent hero of the book – the victim – also virtuously not taking advantage of young girls, indeed, rather protecting their innocence. While there are prostitutes in the book (and they are presented with some sympathy, and definitely not as mere fools, addicts or victims), faithfulness and innocence are definitely seen as strength, and non-marital sex as weakness (men) or machiavellian greed (women).
While there are some similarities with the knight Marlowe, Brownlaw is more chivalrous and less acerbic. But he similarly has his own strong moral code – just wanting to be a good, honest cop in this dark, compromised system. And succeeding. I’m actually a little reminded of several of Gemmell’s fantasy heroes; a positive is that I tend to agree with much of what the protagonists see as ‘good’, rather than them merely being the heroes because they are so much smarter and stronger than everyone else. Was this even perhaps a little too nice – or have I just been trained to expect anyone in a crime novel who initially appears to be genuine and amicable to be hiding a dark secret (for a while I was sure that Hollis Harris was going to end up abducting Brownlaw’s partner, just because a happy ending Prince Charming wedding was so inconceivable in this genre). I’m also a little surprised to also compare this to the unapologetically wholesome Detective Foyle (Foyle’s War TV series), as the settings are more often seedy – actually not the settings (this is significant), but recounts. While key events deal with murder, prostitution and corruption, Jefferson doesn’t voyeuristically dwell in the detail of salacious evidence. Perhaps Brownlaw is a bit of a morally model character – who you could be if you *could* go back ten minutes and think of the *right* thing to say, or show a bit more self-control, character or compassion in tempting circumstances. Interesting, however, that perhaps precisely because he’s such a Peter Perfect, so in control of his emotions (almost detached from them at times), his wife leaves him!
I liked the way that the red herrings weren’t merely red herrings. The tangents, including the synesthesia, were interesting in themselves, and several minor characters even had their own little epilogues (I wasn’t quite sure why there were still several pages left when we’d climactically caught the bad guy, but the epilogues also continued to effectively paint Brownlaw as a genuinely nice guy seeing the people he came across in his investigations as more than a means to an end). Jefferson successfully wove several little stories in and around the case which, while giving impetus and direction, wasn’t necessarily the ‘main’ story.
Yes, the concluding promise of new romance was twee and predictable and too quick and too nice … but for some reason this sort of thing bugs me in some writers, but with others (as here) I feel OK about indulging them and myself with them. By the way, the writing itself was fluid and engaging. Sure, I’ll keep my eye out for some more Jefferson Parkers.