Here I go again -- its really hard for me not to say yes to things I get offered for review. Not that I review them all, by any means, but I was intrigued a while back by the newly established Sainsbury's ebooks (Sainsbury's, in case you are not British, being a large supermarket chain) and, although I'm not in general a huge fan of ebooks, thought I would give them a whirl. I very much enjoyed the first two I read, both by the American novelist Harlan Coben (here and here), and when I got offered another freebie, decided on this one. This was partly because I'd heard favourable reports of the first in the series, The Detective's Daughter, and partly because I discerned that this one was set in an area of London where I used to live.
The Detective's Secret begins with a prologue. It is 1987. A man and woman are making love in a disused WW2 water tower situated near the river in Chiswick, West London. The woman leaves, slamming the door behind her, and the man is trapped inside. Fast forward to the present day, when we meet Stella Darnell, the detective's daughter (turned detective herself since her father's death) and her friend and fellow detective Jack Harmon. Stella works as a cleaner in her own contract cleaning business, and an obsessively thorough one at that, and Jack drives trains on the London underground. It has to be said that neither of them appears to be exactly normal. Stella seems difficult, possibly Aspergers, and definitely OCD, while Jack is extremely quirky, with a belief in the occult meaning of numbers and in the existence of what he calls True Hosts, though quite what they were I never did discover.
The action of the novel is mostly set in the present, though at the beginning there are a few flashbacks to the 1980s, where we meet a couple of schoolboys, Simon and Justin, who have an obviously troubled relationship. Later we encounter another boy, known as the Captain, and his friend Nicky. It's obvious that we will meet these people in some guise in the main plot of the novel, but their identities don't become clear until much later. Indeed there is much playing with identities here. People use names that are not their own, or diminutives of their names, some of which were easily guessed by me though not, initially, by either of the detectives.
The plot is in fact so complicated that although I've only just finished reading it, I can't give a very coherent account of it. It involves a man going under a train on the underground (a One Under, as the drivers call it), and there being some question whether it was suicide or murder. There are missing husbands, sudden appearances of unsuspected brothers, phones with special tracking apps to enable you to stalk anyone of your acquaintance, doppelgängers, howling winds, mysterious trips to the Chiswick eyot (a small island in the river) and much more besides. Jack takes a flat in the newly-converted water tower and spends a lot of time scouring West London through his binoculars, and muttering poems and nursery rhymes to himself. In the end, all the many disparate threads, including the death of that man trapped in the tower in 1987, prove to be inextricably connected and everything ends relatively satisfactorily for Stella and Jack, I think.
I can't help thinking I'd probably have got more out of this novel if I'd read the two previous ones in the series. I know Lesley Thomson has many fans, including Ian Rankin who proclaims on the cover that she is 'in a class above'. Above what, it doesn't say, but I mustn't be cynical. This is definitely one for anyone who loves her books, but I can't comment on how it compares with the other two. I'm not sorry to have read it, and did find it intriguing if at times rather confusing. Many thanks to Sainsbury's ebooks for giving me the opportunity. They've got lots of excellent titles on offer at very good prices, so why not take a look?