Although Gillian Galbraith's Blood in the Water is my second Alice Rice mystery, it is the first book in the series. Two books down and I think I'm hooked. Really, there is nothing especially fancy about the series--they are straightforward contemporary police procedurals, but I like Alice and the Edinburgh setting. I tend to read more historical mysteries or cozies, so reading a good, solid detective story has been a nice change of pace. Galbraith's style seems to be to introduce a character, someone interesting and with an interesting 'voice', who will ultimately meet with some murderous end. The climax may or may not be a surprising twist, but it's the describing of the process of getting from that first murder to the final denouement that Galbraith does so well. I like the sifting through clues, learning about the victims and listening in on the detective's interviews with suspects and then the challenge of making connections to solve the crime. But I especially like all the details that make these books unique and atmospheric with just the right amount of grittiness.
There's a lot to be said for reading a mystery series in order--I have a much better image of DS Alice Rice in my mind now than I did before. Thirty-ish and single Alice entered the police force on an accelerated promotion scheme for graduates. She thought the police force would always provide interest and variety in her life, though she does feel her life lacks something. She's attractive--tall with dark hair and hazel eyes, but she has no luck with men. As a matter of fact she's taken to answering lonely-hearts ads in the newspaper with unsuccessful results thus far. She had a convent education, but now religious topics tend to rankle. Most importantly, though, she is smart and does her job well. Her DCI, Elaine Bell, seems to have a neverending cold (she was ill in Dying of the Light, too), and is a complete workaholic. Alice is partnered with Alastair Watts who seems to be perpetually munching on something or other.
In Blood in the Water Alice is investigating a series of murders, which seem unrelated, though next to each of the bodies the murderer leaves a piece of paper with a word scrawled in ink. Save for one, the victims all seem to be professional individuals--a doctor, a QC (Queen's Counsel), an attorney--New Town sorts (New Town referring to the more upscale section of Edinburgh). The odd man out is a working class man who lives with his barmaid girlfriend. The only link seems to be a series of affairs that several of the victims seemed to be having on the sly with each other.
As Alice and her partner sift through clues the reader gets an interesting view into certain aspects of the victims' lives, particularly their jobs. The doctor was a respected gynecologist and obstetrician whose concern for her patients spilled beyond her working hours. The QC was not only prosperous but successful, though he preferred to ride a bike (strangely a lady's bike) than drive. And the attorney, still fairly new, is worried about presenting herself correctly in court.
"Any mistake and inexperience was apparent, vulnerability exposed. She had tried to master the tortuous terminology used before the Bench, with all its subtleties, euphemisms and codes. So important to prefix things known with 'As I understand it...,' in order to prepare for the revelation that the supposed fact, was in fact, incorrect. Crucial to remember to 'be obliged' to the judge for any assistance rendered by him, or for any order granted or even refused by him, even though in the case of refusal the words had a sarcastic ring. Fundamental always to substitute 'I regret that I am unable to assist my Lord any further' for 'I don't know'--any admission of ignorance, legitimate or otherwise, being as unprofessional as the wearing of a pink wig. No doubt, one day, she would be able to speak the arcane language effortlessly and expertly exchange 'If my Lord is minded' and the rest of the flowery nonsense with the best of them, but, just now, the use of such unnatural and confusing terms required unbroken concentration."
It's also all the other cultural and geographic details that make Galbraith's book so interesting. I've been looking up the different areas of Edinburgh she writes about to try and get a mental image--last time around it was the red light district of Leith and now New Town where I expect there must be rows of Georgian townhouses? I also like the little cultural bits as well.
"The smell coming from the baker's was irresistible. Without conscious thought Alice found herself at the counter, eye-level with a miniature glass oven laden with hot pies, sausages and bridies, each item surrounded by its own individual pool of grease. At last, an old-fashioned shop immune to the current trend for wraps and lattices or brie-and-bacon baguettes, specialising instead in egg rolls, crisps and Irn Bru. Back at her desk she bit into the Scotch pie, savouring its cardboard pastry and peppery interior."
If I ever get to Edinburgh, and I do hope to one day, I plan on buying an Irn Bru. Until then I will continue following Alice Rice's police cases. Next up is Where the Shadow Falls, which unfortunately is not owned by any US libraries. As soon as my book buying ban is lifted I'll be ordering a copy. Gillian Galbraith's most recent book, No Sorrow to Die came out earlier this year. I'm looking forward to reading them both.