Click here to read reviewer Michael Leonard's take on Dead to Me.
Staincliffe writes with energy and a flair for dialog, propelling what is
essentially a police procedural into a rumination on social issues, the inherent
pressures of a murder investigation, and the place of women in modern police
work, traditionally dominated by men. Not content to present the sad case of the
murder of Lisa Finn, tragic in its own right, Staincliffe delves into the lives
of three detectives in Manchester, Englandís Murder Investigation Team:
Detective Chief Inspector Gill Murray, Detective Constable Janet Scott, and
Detective Constable Rachel Bailey, the newest member of Murrayís team.
Finnís body is discovered by her boyfriend, stabbed to death in her shabby apartmentóa habitual junkie sent into care as a child, caught up in a downward-spiraling relationship with few prospects, trapped in a life of chronic instability and no ambition. Breaking the news to Lisaís mother yields few clues; Denise Finn reeks of alcohol and self-pity. The crime is clearly a homicide, requiring the tedious work of tracking down activities the day of the murder, interviewing acquaintances and gathering information, all to be processed in order to build a case.
Staincliffe balances the slow process of a homicide investigation with the personalities of the Murder Investigation Team, a contrast between the short existence of an unfortunate victim and those who juggle careers and private lives while dealing the ugly side of human nature on a daily basis. Murray expects the best efforts of those she delegates to specific tasksóa tough boss, but fair. Murray has brought on the rough-edged Rachel, seeing promise in the girlís enthusiasm and curiosity. Teaming Rachel with solid, predictable Janet, Gill anticipates some friction but is unprepared for the volatile antipathy that arises between the two, Rachel impatient and smart-mouthed, too eager to go off on her own tangent.
Rachel becomes the fulcrum between the Gill and Janet, the irritant who speaks too bluntly to a grieving mother, who offends an official with her insulting questions. As the investigation moves forward, Rachelís natural instincts providing some needed new direction for investigation, Lisaís short time on Earth is exposed to scrutiny. Her small world is peopled with suspects, one after another until the image of her final encounter becomes clear. Acerbic, short-tempered Rachel takes on a new dimension as her past is revealed, a past she takes pains to ignore in pursuit of a different future. Above all, she doesnít want to lose her place on the team, or fall into Gillís permanent disfavor.
The relationship between Gill Murray and Janet Scott has been years in the making. The women are friends as well as females in the ranks of male detectives, facing the same prejudices and challenges, their personal lives fraught with private tragedies and losses yet dedicated to their work. While Janetís resistance to Rachelís presence gradually shifts to grudging respect, Gillís concern for the girlís ability to adapt to the pressures of the work increases. Meanwhile, the author skillfully balances these three distinct personalities with the demands of the case and the emergence of another investigation closely linked to Lisa Finnís murder.
This author not only captures the momentum of an active murder investigation, including the detours of misinformation and lying suspects, but also the complex social issues that accompany such crimes, the delicacy of working with survivors, suspects and the public, the intricate balance required until a case is solved. By including the private lives of the female detectives in a male-dominant career, she separates myth from fact. Beyond this, Staincliffe is just fun to read: fresh, intuitive and real, each of her detectives interesting in her own right. While focusing primarily on Finnís murder with a peripheral case that becomes poignantly relevant, the murder receives due diligence and the reader gets to know three unusual charactersódetectives I am looking forward to meeting again and again.