Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Mystery Review: 'Death in Spigg's Wood' by Linda Gruchy

This is an unusual little book, something of a courtroom drama crossed with a police procedural, with a slathering of thriller on top. The style is different, too. The main character, Meg, keeps a diary for some of the events, so there are sections written in first person. The bulk of the book, however, is in a very wide-angle third person point of view, leaping merrily from one character to another, sometimes only for a sentence or two. This does mean that absolutely no detail is left out of the story. The downside is that, although the changes are never confusing in themselves, it did leave open to question the matter of which characters were the most important. There were so many named police with active roles that I never did work out if any of them were meant to be main characters. It's so common these days to focus closely on just one, or perhaps two, main police characters that I found this broad-brush approach disconcerting.

The opening of the story is far more traditional, bordering on cliche. Middle-aged housewife Meg is caught by the police, gun in hand and with another in her pocket, with three seriously injured men. Despite her protestations that she came across two of the men beating up the third and was forced to defend herself, she is arrested. The story then follows all the twists and turns of the police investigation in great detail, the trail of evidence, the interviews, the reveals about Meg, the slow evolution of the theories and, in time, the court appearances.

In all of this, Meg is the most strongly drawn character by far. Partly this is because of those first person diary entries which help the reader identify with her, but the author also succeeds in capturing the wild mood swings Meg experiences. She veers from tearful self-pity, to violent anger, to depression and apathy in moments. I suppose only someone who's truly experienced something similar can say for sure, but I found this very believable.

The police, sadly, never quite come across as real individuals. This is probably because there were so many of them that I found it impossible to keep track of them all. They all blurred together in my mind. Towards the end, I did begin to disentangle one or two of them, but it was a little late by then. While I enjoyed the realism of the police investigation, it might have been better to sacrifice a little of that by merging some of the multitude of characters.

I don't usually comment on typos and the like, because I find that virtually all books have a sprinkling of them. Generally, it's only continuity errors and plot holes that really bother me, and that wasn't an issue here. However, there were innumerable small but annoying typos, like words missing or misplaced, that became quite irritating. However, I've had the book on my Kindle for a while, so it's possible it's been tidied up by now.

Where the book truly scores is in the tension. Even though the writing style is more dry reporting than melodrama, even though every little detail was included, I found the story totally compelling, and just couldn't put it down. It surprises me to write this, but the courtroom scenes were so tense I found it hard to remember to breathe, sometimes.

The ending was slightly jarring, and there were too many pages of explanation for my taste. However, there were some very interesting philosophical points raised. To the reader, rooting for the innocent Meg caught up quite by chance in extreme events, the black and white aspects of the case are completely clear. For the police, viewing the evidence dispassionately, and for the lawyers, judges and juries involved in the formalities of the law and seeing only a small part of that evidence, there are many shades of grey. An unusual tale, whose quirks never spoiled my enjoyment. If I had half stars available, this would be three and a half stars, but since I don’t let’s put it down as a very good three stars.


  1. To me, this sounds kind of like someone made a novel in the format of one of those Ann Rule true-crime stories. I haven't read it, but the mass-amounts-of-police-personnel thing can get confusing about her retellings too, even though it's the way the police and the courts actually work -- very unlike police tv shows. Which just shows you that while it's important to be realistic, you can only go so far with that in a story without alienating/confusing your readers.

  2. Yes, it's difficult to walk that line between realism and fiction. I quite enjoyed the police procedural aspect of it, and it never got too dry because it was very realistic, but so many cops... :-(