Reviewed by Sunnie Gill
Contemporary Suspense, England
The genre of crime fiction has expanded over the years, the most recent entries being from a forensic point of view. Priscilla Masters has entered the market with yet another perspective on crime, that of the coroner.
RIVER DEEP is set in the town of Shrewsbury in England, which is near the Welsh border. Martha Gunn has given up medical practice to become one of the coroners for the city. Martha is a widow with twin 12 year old children and has to juggle the roles of coroner and mother.
The book gives a very clear description of Martha's role as coroner. "She was not meant to be an active participator but an impartial observer – the conductor of the orchestra whose role was to make sense from the various discordances between the law and medicine."
The story begins when the River Severn bursts its banks after heavy rain and floods part of Shrewsbury, causing the evacuation of some of the town. A police officer checking that everyone has been taken to safety discovers a body floating in a flooded cellar and so begins the investigation.
The body is at first believed to be the man who is renting the house, James Humphreys, but when his wife turns up to identify the body she says it's not her husband. Humphreys hasn't been seen for days. So who is the dead man? How did he get into the house and why is he wearing the missing man's suit? A few days later another body is found, this time with his throat cut. He's not James Humpreys either. The mystery of the missing person and two dead men intrigues Martha so she takes a more active interest in the police investigation.
The author sets the scene in Shrewsbury beautifully. It's not a big city and the pace of life is more leisurely. This is also an apt word to describe the plot of RIVER DEEP. The story doesn't seem to have any great sense of urgency about it and there isn't much tension. We are given a detailed account of Martha's family life and at one stage the author seems to take a break from the story. For a dozen or so pages it includes a sequence that has absolutely no bearing on the rest of the plot at all.
While the resolution works, to some degree, I found the ending just a little fanciful and there is one small line of reasoning that appears to have a hole in it. And there is a series of rather strange little occurrences that aren't explained at all. The reader is left hanging. This could be a device to lead into a series. Hopefully if this is the case the author will be able to tighten up the plot a little and inject some more tension into the story, because it's a premise that has a great deal of potential.
Orginally published by Murder and Mayhem, December, 2005
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