One moment she was there; a fair but formidable opponent in court, and a friendly colleague in chambers. Then – before I’d even realised that she’d gone – Helen Fields suddenly reinvented herself, not as a judge (as one might have expected) but as the Western Circuit’s answer to Karin Slaughter, with a Harper-Collins book deal to produce a series of detective stories in the genre euphemistically described as “gritty.”
In fact, judging by Perfect Remains, the first in the series, Fields’ style would be more accurately characterised as sanguinary, bordering on stomach-churning.
It is a psychological thriller, not a whodunnit. We learn pretty early on, more or less in the first paragraph I think, who’s doin’ it, and pretty early on that he’s doin’ it in a very nasty way indeed, albeit his full nastiness is not revealed straight away. To call him a misogynist is a little unfair on run of the mill misogynist murderers like Jack the Ripper: he is nastier than that. Ms Fields uses her vivid imagination to conjure up a series of gruesome tortures, often involving DIY dentistry in the type of home-dungeon that has in recent years become a must-have extension for any A-list serial killer. This is not a book for the squeamish.
His pursuer – who has excellent credentials to become the next Inspector Morse should any production company wish to turn the book into a TV series – is a half-French, half-Scottish Detective Inspector called Luc Callanach. He has an interesting and surprising back story, which emerges as the story develops so I won’t give it away here. It explains why he had to leave France and begin a new career in the Edinburgh police force. I’m still not entirely convinced that a French policeman would have been slotted quite so easily into Police Scotland, particularly at the rank of Detective Inspector, and needless to say some of Callanach’s new colleagues are a little resentful.
His doubters within the force are encouraged by a ludicrous – and thus thoroughly convincing – psychological profiler. Thanks to this pompous Professor’s predictions, as banal as they are mistaken, the police quickly arrest the wrong man who (in another realistic touch) happily confesses. Neatly, and probably consciously, Fields echoes both the wrongful arrest of Colin Stagg for the 1992 murder of Rachel Nickell (after an entrapment scheme devised by a psychologist), and the extraordinary Swedish case of Thomas Quick who, again with the enthusiastic help of eminent psychologists, cheerfully confessed to the murder of numerous women whom he had never even met.
Fields has a sub-plot about Catholics abusing children in which, to my taste at least, her apparent anti-Catholicism rather gets the better of her judgement, but fortunately it does little to slow down what is generally a well-paced and gripping first novel. The final few chapters are particularly exciting as Callanach approaches and finally confronts the killer.
In Inspector Callanach Fields has created a character and a setting – mainly Edinburgh but ranging widely over the beautiful Scottish countryside – with huge potential. The next book in the series, Perfect Prey, is out shortly. I am sure it will be as big a hit as Perfect Remains deserves to be.
Perfect Remains is published by Harper Collins at £7.99, and is also available as an E-book from Avon Books for 99p.