Down into Darkness, by David Lawrence

I have now read three books in Lawrence's series featuring Detective Sergeant Stella Mooney. The jacket of this one compared the series to Ian Rankin and Prime Suspect but aside from being a gritty police procedural, the comparison didn't seem particularly apt. True, Stella occasionally makes reference to the kind of mysogynism that Jane Tennison faced in Prime Suspect, but seems to enjoy unusual loyalty and deference from her boss and from the men who work for her. At one point in this book, her boss takes leave due to illness and his replacement starts off patronising Stella, though it is not clear (at least to me) that he does so because she is a woman; rather, he seems overeager to assert his authority.

In this book, DS Mooney is after a gruesome serial killer who seems to see himself as an avenger. At the same time, she is fending off ghosts from her past, both her professional life and her childhood in Harefield, one of the worst projects in the area for crime and drugs. Complicating Stella's personal life further is her friend John Delaney, a journalist burnt out from covering combat zones yet missing the adrenaline rush of action.

A person on one of my maillists recently commented that reading too many of any author's books one after the other can show up the author's weaknesses, so it was better to space them out and intersperse them with other books. John Banville said in an interview with Ben Ehrenreich that each of his books grows out of the one before it, that in a sense all of his books are voumes in a single book. I feel that way too, and prefer to read everything by an author at once, warts and all.

However, this method turned out to be not such a good idea with Lawrence. A steady diet of the hard-core violence in these books eventually turned even my stomach. I felt overwhelmed by the quick violence of project life, the odor of a body left too long, the way blood beads on a cut. A matter of personal taste, for sure, and it's true that recently I've stopped watching some of the tv dramas I used to enjoy: all those gruesome murders and eviscerated bodies don't make for a restful night.

I have always liked grittier end of the mystery genre, some of my favorites being Ian Rankin and Dennis Lehane. But it's not the violence I like about them. It's the masterful writing: complex characters who grow and change, vivid local color, themes whose unexpected crannies are explored with a light touch.

With this series, the short, choppy sentences and scenes prevent the author from delving into the levels of complexity found in, say, Rankin's books. Despite my revulsion at the gruesome details, I found much to like in this book. The pacing is good, and there are some wonderful descriptions of London, terse but evocative. The story sheds an interesting light on the nexus of tv news, war movies, and video games. I also liked the way the author plays with some of the noir conventions. But I think it will be a while before I read another of his books.

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