Sunday, 1 July 2012

Mystery Review: 'Bone And Cane' by David Belbin

This is a British political thriller and murder mystery combined set in Nottingham. A couple who were lovers at university have been separated by time and differing circumstances - Sarah Bone is now a Labour MP, Nick Cane is just released from a five year prison stint for growing and distributing dope. The murder mystery concerns a man acquitted after an appeal which Sarah helped to orchestrate, but who she discovers might be guilty after all. The story takes as its backdrop the 1997 General Election.

This is a strange book. It ought to be dull - nothing very much happens for a long time - but somehow I found it very readable. The characters are quite believable - not particularly original, just ordinary people getting by, although it has to be said that, for a man still on probation, Nick does some pretty stupid things - doing drugs, illegally driving a minicab and not mentioning the suspiciously large loan from an old friend. But for anyone looking for a high-action story, this isn't it. The political tension derives largely from whether Sarah will get re-elected and frankly, the result of the 1997 election isn't much of a secret (spoiler for the three people on the planet who don't know: there was an unprecedented Labour landslide). The personal tension centres on how long the author can have Sarah and Nick catch glimpses of each other or talk on the phone and even make dates without actually meeting up, and then, when they do get together, whether they will actually end up in bed or not.

There's actually more than one mystery burbling away in the background. The foreground one is the double murder of a policeman and his wife, for which local low-life Ed Clark was put away. It actually takes quite a long time before any progress is made on revealing what actually happened, or any other realistic suspects emerge. But in the background are two other mysteries: who sneaked on Nick's dope operation and got him imprisoned, and what is old friend Andrew Saint up to, lending Nick large amounts of money and cosying up to Sarah? Mind you, the snippets of tiny reveals that are dribbled through the book are overshadowed by the vast amounts of time given to the political situation (which would be mildly interesting if we didn't know everything that was going to happen), and the torrid sex lives of various characters. In the end, the solutions to the various mysteries are all a bit of a damp squib.

This is one of those books that has nothing particularly wrong with it - it's well written, well paced and reasonably entertaining - but there isn't anything particularly memorable about it either. Neither the story itself, nor the political background, are quite strong enough to carry it. There is a follow on book, so perhaps this is the first in a series, and it does have the potential to be something meatier. The two main characters are perfectly believable, and their relationship is complex enough to sustain a series. Some of the minor characters - the brother, for instance, and the friend in London - have potential, and the combination of a rising Labour politician with police connections and a brief involving prisons and a dope-smoking ex-con is one that has many possibilities. In particular, it would be interesting if a long-running series could comment on the Labour government, and the slow decline from landslide euphoria to - well, everyone will have their own views on what Blair's lot ended up as. Three stars for this one, but I'd be interested to see where the author takes the concept.

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