May 12, 2009
Blood on the Cowley Road by Peter TicklerI can't resist a detective story, particularly when it's set right on Daily Info's front doorstep. Thus it was with glee I dived into Peter Tickler's debut novel, Blood on the Cowley Road. Most of the action takes place around Grandpont, Iffley village, Kassam Stadium and the High, and it's so well-rooted in this location that I couldn't quite believe the site of some of the most critical action didn't really exist.
£18.99, hardback (224 pages)
£18.99, hardback (224 pages)
Donna Leon asserted forcefully during this year's literary festival that location was terribly important in the crime genre. Unfortunately she didn't really get round to why, other than to say the community amongst which the crime takes place is important because most crime is about corruption. I'm not sure I agree with her explanation, but I do think that to be thrilled by a thriller you have to be able to picture yourself in its midst, and that the logistics of crime can be very important to the plot - just think of the problem of alibis. Suffice all this to say it's a luxury to have the Cowley Rd become the haunt of Tickler's team of detectives.
They're pretty good as detectives go, and the police procedure seems good and thorough to my admittedly untrained eye. They actually follow up clues and check their hunches, and the other characters don't confess after only token resistance, like so many novels. Most of the clues are dropped very naturally and casually into the narrative, and are hidden mainly by the fact they don't seem important at the time. Plot twists and revelations happen at a decent pace and without too many hairpin bends.
I was more convinced by the male characters than the female, but both genders of police have enough depth to hold your interest. They avoid the cliches of too much baggage or intrusive private lives. Nearly all the bit players are cold-blooded, obstructive and unpleasant, but maybe that's because we see them mostly through the eyes of the police. Having said that, the next largest group after the police is of people with mental health issues of one sort or another, and I was impressed at how sensitively this is dealt with. It's not what you expect from pulp fiction, but these characters are portrayed as people with quirks, not as mental disabilities with legs.
Influences (or at least resonances) I picked out included the police hierarchies of Reginald Hill's Dalziel and Pascoe, DI Susan Holden's overbearing Mother a la Sue Rodwell's Odd Body series, and a body count remeniscent of Midsomer Murders. I'd say Blood on the Cowley Road (doesn't it sound plausible...) takes its place neatly in the canon of detective fiction, and I look forward to the sequels, that is if there are any residents left in East Oxford...