‘Songbird,’ by Peter Grainger

As he sat down again, Smith said, ‘I can’t remember the exact occasion when I first said this to you, but I know I’ll have said it before. The time will come when you’ll have to choose between being a high-ranking, well-paid and officially respected police detective, and being a good one. This shouldn’t ever happen, but in my experience it always does….’

Peter Grainger’s series of police procedurals starring Detective Sergeant D.C. Smith has been one of my reading pleasures for some time. They’re rather quiet books, short on action scenes and long on character and atmosphere. It’s been a delight to watch Smith carry on his eccentric career, defying his superiors when necessary, nurturing his investigative team.

Smith was badly wounded at the end of the last book, so when Songbird opens he’s out of the picture. He will show up, but he’ll be peripheral to this story. Now is the time to watch the young detectives he’s trained operating without training wheels.

The main character in Songbird is Detective Sergeant Chris Waters, who now occupies the exact position in the hierarchy where Smith used to be. Since he took the job on, things have been quiet in the fictional East Anglian town of Kings Lake. But now a body has been found.

It’s the body of an attractive woman, found strangled near a caravan (mobile home) park. The investigative machinery starts moving, and before long a suspect has been identified. DNA evidence seems incontrovertible. The big brass are ready to lock the suspect up and celebrate their win.

But Chris is pretty certain they’re wrong. He can’t explain away the evidence (yet), but this particular suspect seems to him incapable of such a crime – for several reasons.

In the tradition of D.C. Smith before him, Chris Waters will, very carefully, defy his superiors’ wishes and look for alternatives. Fortunately for him, he has allies he never expected.

I missed D.C. Smith himself in his usual role – though Smith does have a part to play in the story – but Songbird had all the usual pleasures of a Grainger novel. I fear (and this is a criticism I’ve made of a lot of police series) that the story is overpopulated with woman detectives. I think Phil once looked up the statistics, and women in the British police are not nearly as ubiquitous as they are in the fiction. Also, I figured out the big red herring right away. But all in all, I liked Songbird a lot. And there are hints that Smith himself may find a new role in the future.

No particular cautions are necessary, for adult readers. Recommended.

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