Thursday, 18 June 2015
The Siren by Alison Bruce
She knew the curve of each footpath, and she had favourite headstones. Plenty marked with ‘wife of the above’, but none, she noticed, marked ‘husband of the below’. Lots, too, who ‘fell asleep’. And if marriage carried kudos, so did age: in some cases a mark of achievement and in others a measure of loss. She loved some stones for their ornate craftsmanship, others for their humble simplicity. She taught herself to draw by copying their geometry and scripts and fallen angels. The school claimed she had a natural aptitude for art but she knew it was the cemetery that taught her balance and perspective, light and shade and the importance of solitude. In isolated moments, when her feelings of abandonment became all but overwhelming, she’d return to certain memorials that had stayed in her awareness after her previous visits. Like that of Alicia Anne Campion, one of the many who had fallen asleep. She’d gone in 1876 at the age of 51, and had been given a low sandstone grave topped with white marble, shaped like a roof with a gable at each end and one off-centre. The elaborate carving was still unweathered. Kimberly knew how to find it at night-time and had often sat there in the dark, with her back against this grave and the pattern close to her cheek, her fingers tracing the crisp lines that the stonemason had chiselled.
observations: Alison Bruce is writing a series of police procedurals set in Cambridge – I accidentally started with this, the second one, but that seems fine. The setting is very authentic – I lived for several years in the area constantly referenced in the book, and really enjoyed tracking people’s journeys down the streets. The cemetery above is well-known to me – I used to use it as a shortcut.
The book is very unusual. There is the heroic policeman – he’s a maverick, he’s brilliant, he’s rich, he’s deeply attractive to women. But we keep switching from his POV to that of the people around him, the other police staff, as well as to other characters in the drama being played out. I found this unsettling. Quite often a section ends, and then we go back to the same section from someone else’s POV. There are endless miscommunications and misunderstandings. I have never read anything quite like it.
The plot is intriguing – the young woman, Kimberly, has something problematic in her past and has fears for her young son. Her best friend dies in a house fire, and her son goes missing. She is connected with a notable crime family in the city, in a world of nightclubs and casual crime. I thought the ending was a bit rushed, and I’m not sure I understood every single thing that had gone on – I certainly didn’t get why some people acted as they did. The business with the child’s photo seemed ridiculous: really, if you saw a picture of a toddler would you be able to say with certainty that it was not of a child you had seen a week or so ago? But overall it was a good police procedural, with considerable eccentricities.
I really liked Sergeant Sheen, with his arcane filing system and encyclopaedic knowledge of the city, though here as elsewhere in the book there seemed to be very little in the way of modern technology. It was as if the book was written 20 years ago, then updated in a random way with some quick mentions of mobile phones.
My other problem came with the hero spying on his boss’s office with his telescope. Really? Really? I found this whole scene jaw-dropping.
But the book was a good read.
The photos of gravestones are from Perry Photography and used with her kind permission: you can see more of her pictures at Flickr, or at her website weddingsinitalytuscany. Her wonderful photos have featured on the blog many times before.