Click here to read reviewer Luan Gaines' take on Dead to Me.
”Act as if you’re a market researcher, really interested in getting the answers, but not at all bothered what they are.”
Perhaps the most apt line of the novel and the one that really encapsulates the training that Janet Scott and Rachel Bailey must undergo to make them such accomplished detectives. This story, a prequel of sorts written to complement the hit television seriesScott and Bailey, has Rachel joining the Manchester Murder Investigation Team after being selected by officious Detective Chief Inspector Gill Murray. Rachel and Janet have plenty of emotional baggage, failed relationships, and career capabilities that make them worthy partners for the equally talented and focused Gill, who wields her team with an iron fist.
For a show that has already created appealing characters, Staincliffe manufactures a panorama of the Major Incident Team as they handle a vicious murder while dealing with their somewhat tumultuous personal lives. The novel is heavy on the personalities and backgrounds of the detectives, and hints are dropped at regular intervals about the current states of Rachel, Janet and Gill. Settled into a dull marriage, Janet wonders how her life has come to this, while Rachel hungers for the chance to prove herself. Filled with raw ambition, Rachel resents that she grew up “on the wrong side Middleton.”
In Dead to Me, poverty and crime become dancing partners. The murder of Lisa Finn in her ratty council flat plunges Rachel and Janet into a maelstrom of drugs, abuse, and domestic violence. Lisa has been stabbed wearing an open kimono housecoat, her bloody body covered in a duvet. The most obvious suspect is Lisa’s boyfriend, Sean Broughton. Although Sean denies any involvement in her murder, he admits he was supplying Lisa with heroin. In a futile, last-ditch attempt to make her nightmare go away, Denise Finn, Lisa’s chain-smoking, drunken mother, is convinced that Sean did the deed.
As the investigation ramps up, Janet must balance Rachel’s impetuous, bratty manner with her own standards. She gets a tongue-lashing from Gill, who makes it plain that Janet needs to deal with this on her own. Gill admits that Rachel has a hard time following the rules, but Janet is to give her all the support she can. Staincliffe builds her story around the personalities of the two detectives: Janet, the steady, older family/career woman, and Rachel, younger and more impetuous but always coming up with the inspirational ideas.
The case literally grows wings, the murder squad finally on the scent of a quarry. Gill in particular is filled with the excitement of identifying a new potential suspect. James Raleigh is soon pulled in for questioning. Lisa’s personal advisor at Ryelands House Care Facility, Rachael discovers that James was also connected to brittle Rosie Vaughan. Damaged, paranoid, and living on the edge, Rosie knew Lisa at Rylands. Rachel is convinced there is something there, but she needs a way to introduce it into the inquiry without being laughed out of court.
The novel is very visual, with lots of dialogue and inner introspection. Not surprisingly, the narrative reads much like a screenplay, and it’s easy to visualize Suranne Jones, Leslie Sharpe and Amanda Bulmore speaking and portraying their characters. The parts suit them. From the mechanics of the interviews to the intense cross-examination of the suspects (the highlight of the book), there’s no physical evidence tying Sean to the murder itself. He was present and correct and his DNA was all over Lisa’s body, but he can still argue his innocence. The novel culminates on a tense and emotional note as the personal and professional aspects of the women's lives collide in dramatic fashion. Gill’s loyalties are tested to the extreme when she realizes that the case she has garnered is just so tough.
In this great accent to the series, Staincliffe doesn’t shy away from the hard issues of depression, alcohol dependency, and drug abuse plaguing Manchester’s underclass. Complex and complicated storytelling at its best, Staincliffe has inspired me in such a way that I can’t wait for Series Four.