In The Twilight Time Karen Campbell takes a run of the mill police procedural and breathes new life in it. The story is fairly standard, but the characters who inhabit this world are quite human, in many ways flawed, and occasionally not overly likable. It made for sometimes challenging reading, but I still felt compelled to keep going despite some eyebrow-raising moments. Don't get me wrong, this is a well written and well plotted story, but the characters were a bit hard to warm up to at times.
Sargeant Anna Cameron, a ten year police veteran, has just transferred to the Flexi Unit--a sort of hands on department trying to clean up Glasgow's mean, dirty streets, and concentrating on a rather insalubrious area called the Drag where prostitutes and drug dealers hang out. Upon first meeting her I thought Anna was a formidable woman, and she quickly proved me right. As she is to head up the department no doubt she has to be. One of her new colleagues tags her as the "ball-breaker" upon first meeting her, a label she abhors, but sort of lives up to. When she was a rookie and just starting out she had an affair with a fellow police officer who dumped her in a very undignified manner and married a recruit from an incoming class. Years later Jamie and Cath have a lovely little daughter, Cath is a stay at home mom and their marriage has hit a rocky patch. Cath is up at all hours with the baby, hasn't quite gotten her before-baby figure back and is feeling tired, worn out and dumpy. Jamie is feeling neglected, so when beautiful Anna comes back into his life, you just know trouble is around the corner.
Anna is an interesting, if very prickly, character. Sort of ice princessy in looks and attitude, her house even reflects her personality--all austere with blonde wood and smooth, empty surfaces. She loved her father, who has long since passed away, and is ignored by her mother who remarried and lives abroad. She has no women friends and her significant other is a slightly older married man who is higher up in the police ranks and mostly absent from her life. So, her life is her work even if she doesn't always do things by the book. Do you see a pattern forming here? But beneath her cold, hard shell you do get glimpses of a more fragile interior. She is not one to let that aspect of her to show though very often, however.
Her main priority is to find the man who has been assaulting prostitutes and carving what seems like the letter 'I' into their faces. There's a certain amount of contempt between the police and the streetwalkers who believe the investigation is all show and empty promises as they are harassed as a matter of course. In the middle of all this an elderly Polish man is heinously murdered after having been the victim of a hate crime. His flat, as well as the flat of a Pakistani family had been graffittied with swastikas and other racial expletives. Anna had just met Ezra, a seemingly respectful and even suave older man who kept to himself. He was brutally murdered, his flat ransacked and a collection of war medals were stolen.
Not only does Anna occasionally take matters in her own hands when she should be passing along information to her superiors, she has to put up with belligerent and sexist attitudes from her colleagues and the group of officers she leads. I was telling a friend about this book and she remarked that it sounded a bit like Prime Suspect and the difficulties Helen Mirren's character has to put up with. There's a certain amount of bantering that goes back and forth in the book, though it was occasionally hard to tell how much of the vitriol was real or simply imagined by me.
I suspect Karen Campbell knows well what she writes of, however. Both parents worked in the Strathclyde Police, she is a former police officer and she met her husband through her job as well. She certainly knows how to write an atmospheric story where you get a good sense of place--including all its dark, nasty corners. It's peppered with slang and colloquialisms as well, some of which where harder to puzzle out than others. Oh, and Anna drinks Irn Bru, too! There are two more Anna Cameron mysteries already published. I'll add them to my list, but I think I need a little familiarity now, so I've picked up the most recent Inspector Lynley novel, This Body of Death. Lynley hit a rocky patch the last couple of novels, but I've heard things are mostly back on track in Elizabeth George's latest endeavor.