Songbird by Peter Grainger

Songbird (Kings Lake #1)Songbird by Peter Grainger
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A woman is found murdered along a trail on the coast in England. Det. Sergeant Chris Waters is the lead character investigating, although the storyline is populated with dozens more. This is promoted as a police procedural, and it is that – too much of that in my view. It starts slow and doesn’t unbog itself much after that. There is very little detecting going on and a whole lot of process and office politics. Perhaps as a Yank I expect something different, something more like Bosch. The first half of the book dawdled with issues like who stood where during the crime scene search, who reports to whom, which detective should do an interview – the more experienced one or the woman with the softer touch, and so on.

I found the obsession with hierarchy to be annoying and mystifying. Do the Brits really have five distinct ranks investigating every murder: Detective Constable, Detective Sergeant, Detective Inspector, Detective Chief Inspector, and Detective Chief Superintendent? And each one reports directly to the one rank above? To top that off, there are two different units competing for the same case, so double that. In the U.S. bigger local departments, it’s one detective, probably assigned with a partner, and a lieutenant who runs a desk but doesn’t do interviews, searches, etc. In the FBI where I served every case agent is on his or her own except when help is needed and a supervisor will assign others for surveillance, tech work, etc. if the case agent can’t rustle up volunteers.

The investigation gets off on a wrong track halfway through, but I thought it was obvious how and why that was wrong. The book mostly spent time fleshing out the relationships between the different detectives and setting up personalities for what was intended to be a new series, rather than following the logical leads. The book would have been twenty-five pages if the author had stuck to the plot. The culprit was equally obvious early on … or early days as the Brits say.

Which brings me to what I liked about the book. It’s so thoroughly British that it had lots of new stuff for me – names of cars and products and locations, zillions of police acronyms I’d never seen before, and the different legal rules in effect. I found that fascinating much of the time even though the underlying murder mystery was rather ho-hum. If you’re looking for action, this isn’t the book for you.

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