Quiet Acts of Violence by Cath Staincliffe

I always know I’m in good hands when I pick up a Cath Staincliffe novel. She combines excellent writing with a clear-eyed view of contemporary issues and I love her Manchester setting. Quiet Acts of Violence begins with the death of a baby, Rosa named after the street on which she’s found inside an industrial-sized bin. Detectives DI Donna Bell and DC Jade Bradshaw begin the search for the mother, questioning residents and business owners on the busy street.

This is an environment of Super Saver shops and greasy Chuckie Chicken takeaways. Staincliffe sensitively portrays the raft of characters who live in the area from Colette the homeless woman shunted around the B and Bs of Manchester who discovers the child, to the Romanian car wash attendants working subsistence level jobs who are reluctant to involve themselves in a police investigation.

The book is a follow-up to The Girl in the Green Dress and I can see why Staincliffe’s readers wanted more of Donna and Jade. Donna with five children and a husband, Jim, who is recovering from injury is a strong protagonist juggling responsibility both at home and at work.  The story of Jim facing the inquest into the death of a man he accidentally killed while driving is a moving sub-plot. Jade with her fractured background is independent and suspicious of family ties although she finds them hard to shake off. Together the two women make an impressive team and show how meticulous policing and insights into the life of Manchester residents can provide the solution to the case.

I’ve already recommended the book to my creative writing students as I love how the police procedural aspect of the novel is combined with a portrayal of lives under pressure to create a compelling crime narrative. If you haven’t read Staincliffe’s books yet, here’s the place to start.

More (lockdown) crime reads

My reading this month has consisted of books by international authors. Probably due to the restriction on travel, my mind has needed to journey into spaces other than Derbyshire! The good news is that we’re lucky in the UK in that publishers are willing to take a chance on writers from around the world.

First up was Australia. I’m a big fan of the recent books by Jane Harper and Chris Hammer so I put this debut to the top of my reading pile. Hermit by S R White is the twelve-hour narrative of a crime investigation in rural Australia. Nathan Whittler disappeared fifteen years earlier and is found next to the body of a murdered shopkeeper. Detective Dana Russo has a short period of time to question the troubled, inscrutable suspect and get to the bottom of both the murder and the man’s disappearance. Tense and absorbing, I loved everything about this intelligent thriller which is out in September.

I love Iceland in the winter and The Mist, the new novel from Ragnar Jonasson, beautifully evokes the splendid isolation of its rural farmsteads. In 1987, an elderly married couple are found murdered in their farmhouse after a month long snowstorm. Hulda Hermansdottir is sent from Reykjavik to investigate but she is haunted by her own family tragedy and her failure to spot a crime which was taking place in her own home. Bleak and haunting, I read this lovely novel in one sitting. The translation is by Victoria Cribb.

 

Hijack City is a novel set in Cape Town by Michael Williams. A group of car jackers are terrorising the city and detective Jake Mulligan is given the task of setting up an anti-hijack unit in a crummy building away from the main police station. His partner, Jackson Sondile, has been accused of corruption, tainting all he has come into contact with especially Jake. I loved the descriptions of various facets of Cape Town society, the excellent pace and, most of all, the character of Jake Mulligan.

 

Finally, the trenches of the First World War are the setting for Jon Wilkins’ excellent Poppy Flowers at the Front. Poppy is a ambulance driver ferrying wounded soldiers to the casualty clearing station. This is the story of a young girl plunged into the horror of the trenches, the experience of which assaults all her preconceptions of what it is to live and die. Her companion is Elodie, a French nurse, who provides Poppy with hope and flashes of joy amongst the horror. Beautifully written, with letters to home peppering the prose, I enjoyed this endearing love story.