Author: Steve Burford
Publisher: NineStar Press
Cover Artist: Aria Tan
Rating: 5 of 5 Stars
Publication Date: 01/10/2016
Length: Novel (~ 50K-100K)
Genre: Contemporary, Crime Fiction, Drama, Gay, Gay Fiction
“He is a talented and very promising young policeman. Make no mistakes, he deserves the promotion.”
But when gay Detective Sergeant Dave Lyon is assigned to Detective Inspector Claire Summerskill’s team as part of the Service’s ‘positive discrimination policy’, no-one at Foregate Street Station is happy. And that includes Summerskill and Lyon.
Mutual suspicion and mistrust must be shelved however, when a young man’s beaten body is found on a canal tow path, and a dead-end case of ‘happy slapping’ unexpectedly turns into a murder investigation.
Why would someone want to kill middle class arts student Jonathan Williams? And how is his death linked to that of rent boy and would be ‘adult’ film star Sean?
As Summerskill and Lyon’s investigations proceed, the newly-promoted detectives begin to untangle a web of connections, false assumptions and sheer prejudices that force them both to question closely not just their relationship with each other but with the rest of their colleagues at Foregate Street Station and with the Police Service as a whole.
“It’s A Sin” is the first in the “Summerskill and Lyon” police procedural novels.
Slam dunk on practically page one: this story takes place in Worcester, England. Shout out to my peeps.
Don’t worry, this is not the only reason this story starts off on all the right feet. Yeah, that’s right, all the feet. A newly promoted Detective Inspector, Claire Summerskill, is paired with a newly transferred from Redditch Sergeant, Dave Lyon. Even from the brief glimpses of each of their personalities, it was easy to see that this was going to be an examination of two professionals trying to get to know each other, as well as working their first case together, and how that would impact their lives, at work and at home. I bought the whole set of matching tumblers without seeing more than the first one plucked from the happy meal that is this book.
Intelligent, anti-stereotype, humorous, heartbreaking, surprising, quiet, unapologetic, showing the imperfections of the characters, the circumstances they find themselves in, and the decisions they sometimes make in attempts to deal with it all. If this is how Steve Burford writes, and the quality of the work published by NineStar, this is not my last book I’ll be reading by this author, or probably this publisher.
This is a modern story without being shouty and obvious about it. These characters are living in contemporary times so they’re comfortable in it, they feel no need to make declarations outside of what would normally occur during conversation or self-reflection. They don’t outwardly express every thought, and the ones they do express are sometimes brilliant and sometimes not even a little bit. Realistic. Not just as individuals but as a community. And how they all function amidst the dysfunction that surrounds them. The hate that some human beings harbor, and act upon, for each other. Love, and how complicated it can be, whether in daily life or in the actions one takes in trying to protect it, or process the anger they feel at failing to do so. And everything in between.
”I’m saying…,” Dave ground to a halt, gathered his thoughts and started again. “What I’m saying, what I’m asking, is why was I offered this post here?”
Claire blinked, caught out by the apparent change of direction. “You didn’t… ? I mean… it’s promotion. The post became available.”
“And I’m gay and you had a case of happy slapping, apparently directed at the gay community, so enter Sergeant Pink in a nice bit of low profile, community-friendly work. Except a significant section of your station isn’t quite ready to ‘embrace the rainbow’, is it, and to make matters worse things have all suddenly got a lot heavier, and sexuality’s being shoved down everyone’s throat. And not in a fun way.”
There are so many things going on and being demonstrated in this exchange. This author is fantastic with dialogue, giving it life, making it realistic, keeping it moving. This also exemplifies the author’s approach to society’s changes and the experiences of many people within it, including a gay copper and everything he is forced to navigate, especially in a small town police station. Claire sees the world as he does in many ways, but she hasn’t experienced it like he has, and vice versa. That’s probably the most interesting thing about this story, watching these two adjust to one another, learning about each other, how to read one another, in both professional and personal circumstances.
This passage also shows my one niggle with this author’s writing: nearly always using the past tense, stunting the forward movement in the action surrounding the dialogue. Instead of –Dave ground to a halt, gathered his thoughts and started again.-, it could be something like – Dave ground to a halt, gathering his thoughts and starting again. Changing at least one of those words from ‘-ed’ to ‘-ing’ would bring it more in line with the urgent, right now feeling of the conversation, making it more ‘present’ instead of ‘just happened’. I’m quite certain there are better, more technically accurate ways of explaining that but I’m not an English prof. I’m sure you get my drift.
Dave and Claire aren’t the only ones making for rich scenes and an all-consuming murder mystery. Their respective partners help make the romantic relationships of Dave and Claire one of the important branches of this story without making them front and center. Instead, Claire’s marriage and Dave’s approximately year-long partnership reflect the effects of being in a committed relationship with a copper, as well as how the relationships themselves affect being a copper. These characters also buck the stereotypes, especially as how they’re usually portrayed in literature.
Other family members, some on page and some not, friends, those hurt by crimes committed against them, and those who commit them, fellow coppers, pub patrons, bosses, professors and more, they all play their roles, and all are necessary to advancing the plots.
The murder mystery itself is rather well done. Not only was I kept guessing Dave and Claire were, too. I wasn’t privy to information they didn’t have, making my experience of their working to solve the crimes quite visceral. As good as the mystery is, though, this is a story about exploration, how people can surprise you, how complicated human beings are, while at the same time being very basic when it comes to the ferocity of emotions and what they can make someone do.
This story is humorous, blunt, serious, exhibiting nearly perfect prose, with even the wobbly bits endearing themselves to me. The most spectacular inclusion is just that, inclusion. Not one character is treated as a stereotype, all of them permitted to be who they are, even the one I was sure couldn’t begin to redeem himself, or the one who appeared in no need of redemption but made it obvious they probably would.
Well done, Steve Burford. You’ve gained a loyal reader in me. I have one simple request: please bring me more of Dave and Claire and the people of Worcester, and Malvern, as is hinted by the subtitle of this book. Thank you!
I would like to thank the publisher for providing me with the eARC of this title in exchange for my honest opinion.
I have a number of paperbacks, most of which are signed, to giveaway. Over the between now (11 Mar 2017) and 31 Mar 2017, every comment on the blog (this post and all other new posts), will be entered to win 1 of these paperbacks. There are also some misc swag items, so there will be a few packs of these to give away as well.
Thank you so much for your support over the last 4 years. Prism will be closing its doors on 1 April 2017. All content will remain available, but no new content will appear after 31 Mar 2017. As such all request forms have been turned off. Again Thank you,
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