WHERE THE SHADOW FALLS by Gillian Galbraith

Something really odd happened while I was prepping this post –  there I was, after a brief pause, about to continue my Support Your Local Library Challenge, when I discovered that someone in the blogosphere had beaten me to it! That is to say, the exact same named challenge was being run – which is where the image on the left comes in. But that blog moved on following a transition to WordPress (Blogger’s bad rep of late continues …) but that new blog has now stopped too. So I’ll just continue my little, personal, self-imposed challenge, keeping in mind what a big, mercurial and changeable feast blogs can be. So, onwards: Where the Shadow Falls - is it any good? Well …

This 2008 novel is the second in a series of five (so far) featuring Detective Sergeant Alice Rice, a policewoman based in Edinburgh. It begins intriguingly with a man who has already committed suicide but is not in fact quite dead yet – though that is about to change following the arrival of an unexpected visitor.

“… your ‘project’ results in the ruination of my home, my sodding life, actually. And don’t imagine we don’t know what Firstforce’s real concerns are. Nothing to do with clean, renewable energy, polar bears and saving the planet… No, it’s all about the bottom line, capital returns, dividends for your shareholders …”

Wind farming is the topical background to a murder involving a judge, or ‘Sheriff’ as they are known in Scotland, and his secret gay lover of over 40 years. This is combined with a new love affair for our protagonist, office politics in a male-dominated environment and distressing news on the home front as Rice’s mother is diagnosed with breast cancer. So yes, quite a busy story in lots of ways, though the various elements do struggle a little to gel into a dramatically cohesive whole. The essential plot centres on the proposed installation of 25 turbines in the (fictitious) Gimmerfauld region, which it turns out Alice’s parents are actively involved in protesting against. The local demonstrators include some extremely intemperate and vociferous people, something Rice witnesses at first hand when she stands in for her father at one of the meetings with the company planning the work, which is more than a little hostile. This is as nothing compared with the range of stresses she is having to confront on a daily basis is in her life however. On the less dramatic end of the scale, her dog Quill is giving her grief with his bad behaviour, something exacerbated by the less than sensible dog-sitting practices of the kind but increasingly senile neighbour Miss Spinell. Alice also undertakes a diving certificate, with a friend who is there mainly to meet men, but connects instead with Ian Melville, a suspect in a previous case who now has the potential to be a proper love interest. Which is just as well because she could do with some serious TLC because apart from her parent’s suffering she also has to cope with her sympathetic (female) boss having to go on sick leave after coming down with ME. The team in now put in the hands of DCI Bruce, who is desperate to make good to gain promotion – but he is unlucky and frankly not up to the task when a major case presents itself.

Skimming through a report on the probable time of death, Alice gagged on her egg roll.

James Freeman, an elderly and wealthy Sheriff has been battered to death in his upmarket Edinburgh home but there is little in the shape of suspects of physical evidence. There is one major peculiarity to emerge though as it turns out that at the time of his death, the man had also ingested enough chemicals to kills him. Freeman was unmarried and the only family he had comes in the unpleasant shape of his wastrel brother Christopher, who is forever quarreling and making up with his equally awful wife Sandra, their lives in a permanent gin-soaked, tobacco-infested haze. But he is utterly self-obsessed and has little idea of his brother’s life, which includes a secret life with a partner of several decades,  Nicholas Lyon, living with him out in the country.

It turns out that Freeman had given the wind farm developers the access they desperately need to the land, so he has become a target for those who oppose the new turbine installations. These are emotive issues, the environmental impact measured not so much in terms of carbon emissions but quality of life, which is the real underlying theme – indeed the wind farm element, while providing the motive for the crimes (a suspicious hit-and-run takes place late in the book), is really just a backdrop and gets pretty much dumped at the halfway mark in terms of narrative. Smoothly written and straightforwardly plotted, this highly readable novel displays a nice sense of humour (one man is described as having ‘child-bearing hips’). It also does a good job of pointing to the casual sexism that Rice has to endure in the workplace (Alice’s only real ally is DS Alistair Watt, who can only offer moral support), especially at the hands of new boss DCI Bruce and the odious Detective Inspector Eric Manson, who is lazy, stupid, sexist, homophobic, petulant and unfortunately Rice’s superior.

On the other hand, the plotting is often mundane and pedestrian, with events happening with little dramatic momentum or build-up. For example, the departure and return of Rice’s female boss DI Bell seems ultimately to serve little purpose other than to delay the investigation, which seems to blunder from one dead end to another with very little semblance of method or expertise. The finale in particular is somewhat haphazard and frankly confusing with the murderer, who boringly turns out to be the most likely suspect, managing somehow to set fire to himself with one match without accelerant while standing outdoors in the middle of an open field engaged in a ridiculous attempt  to dispose of a very large piece of incriminating piece of evidence.

Despite the topical background, this is an oddly old-fashioned story that could easily have taken place 50 or 60 years ago – in fact there are virtually no references to modern technology outside of the wind power aspects. More than anything, in its mixture of topical plot, murder set amongst the rich and privileged and continuing personal and professional dilemmas being faced by the heroine, it comes across as something aiming to be fodder for television drama. Which is both a good and a bad thing: the dialogue and the characters are quite vivid but really only within the confines of the detective drama formula and doesn’t really offer anything very new. This is efficient, ably put together but basically completely predictable, precisely the kind of short, breezy read that one would have thought the average television cop show had truly replaced by now.

The Alice Rice series:

  1. Blood In The Water (2007)
  2. Where The Shadow Falls (2008)
  3. Dying Of The light (2009)
  4. No Sorrow To Die (2010)
  5. The Road to Hell (2012)

The most recent Alice Rice novel, The Road To Hell, was published in April. For further details about the author, who incidentally used to be a practicing lawyer, visit her homepage at: http://gilliangalbraith.net, even though it hasn’t been updated much of late.

***** (1 fedora tip out of 5)

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7 Responses to WHERE THE SHADOW FALLS by Gillian Galbraith

  1. Gillian Galbraith must be from amongst the new crop of mystery writers whose stories are centered on modern-day trends, like wind turbines, that too in Scotland which is harvesting power from this form of renewable energy. I could identify with the cover photo of wind turbines considering that there isn’t a week when my paper doesn’t write about wind energy among other RE projects like solar. New writers are also paying more attention to little details in the personal lives of their main characters like Alice Rice’s mother having cancer or her dog’s bad behaviour. This appears to be a fairly new trend in crime-fiction.

    • I do wonder to what extent this is just a topical angle to hang the plot on – in this case it doesn’t feel particularly well-developed, which is a shame in my opinion because it has the potential to really say something interesting that modern readers can connect with. In this case, it is frankly a bit weird how old-fashioned everything else is, apart from that aspect. A lot of people involved in renewable energy do think that off-shore may be the best way to harvest wind power, though it is much more expensive …

  2. Maxine says:

    I remember reading and reviewing the first one of this series when it came out, but had lost track of it since then, so I must revisit. thanks for the reminder.

    • Thanks for the feedback Maxine. I wasn’t too enamoured, as you will have seen, but Gilbraith may be worth sticking with. On the evidence of this volume, while well written, I just couldn’t see it going anywhere special, and I did find the ending particularly disappointing (a bit of a sin in a mystery, let’s face it) but I’ll be curious to see what people make of the latest one on the series. If my library gets it I may well give the series another shot (so to speak).

      • Maxine says:

        Sounds as if our views are similar – I quite liked the first but it did not stand-out, I like legal-based novels but I did not find it very original, if I remember correctly. But, I am prepared to give one of the later books a try, if I can find one in the library.

  3. Elizabeth says:

    Your blog is awesome. Header is great and love the posts.
    Found you in a comment list and decided to make a visit….so glad I did.
    Stop by if you like.

    Elizabeth
    Silver’s Reviews
    http://silversolara.blogspot.com

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