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January 09, 2007

High jinks: The Glass Wall - Clare Curzon

Posted by Helen Szamuely

The Glass Wall
by Clare Curzon
London: Allison & Busby, 2005
Hardback, 18.99; Paperback, 6.99

Clare Curzon (a. k. a. Marie Buchanan, a. k. a. Rhona Petrie) is a terrifyingly busy lady. She has, under her different names (Buchanan being the real one), written various novels, thrillers, historical romances and detective stories. As Clare Curzon she has been writing successful police procedurals about Superintendent Mike Yeading and his Thames Valley team since 1983. Her descriptions of those procedures are skimpy - just interesting enough to add realism to the novels but not really detailed enough to bore the reader.

Mike Yeading reminds one of Commander Gideon created by J. J. Marric (a. k. a. John Creasey and a dozen other pseudonyms). Before John Gregson made the character and the plots rather too homely and cosy, there were the books, which gave glimpses of a rather nasty post-war world, before, during and after the much maligned sixties, and a police who battles against rather long odds while trying to lead more or less normal lives. Neither Gideon nor Yeading (nor their separate teams) seem to have particularly high opinions of themselves. Unlike, say Commander Adam Dalgliesh, they do not see themselves as being somehow morally superior to other people, whether criminals or not. They do not like the really nasty criminals - in this novel the kidnapper, rapist and murderer of a young boy - but remain reasonably in touch with life. There are families and family problems but these are not overwhelming. It seems that police officers can go on functioning without being rebellious and unlikeable loners.

The novel starts dramatically with a Filipino barman witnessing the fall of a body from the seventh floor of a block of luxury apartments. There is clearly a tragic mystery in the young man's life, one that gradually unfolds through the novel. First we are introduced to the people who live behind the glass wall of that apartment, ancient Emily, who can barely function, her great-niece and nurse, Alyson and the daily carer, the lumpish Sheena. Other people and their problems radiate from them and gradually the various plot lines develop and intertwine.

As ever, with so many different characters and plots - an inevitable part of police procedurals - not everything makes sense. In particular, the story of the young boy, first seen in the Intensive Therapy Unit as an OD patient, who is not quite what he appears to be, has too many holes. The solution to at least one of the other crimes is possible but improbable. But, overall, the tale is well told and the characters and their motivation remain credible. Curiously enough, the novel describes a world that is somewhat less nasty than the one in Marric's books.

Dr Helen Szamuely is a writer and political researcher as well as editor of the Conservative History Journal and co-editor of www.eureferendum.com.


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