AND NONE SHALL SLEEP (1997) by Priscilla Masters

Masters_And-None-Shall-Sleep_telosThe DI Joanna Piercy series by Priscilla Masters has now reached its twelfth volume but today I am reviewing the fourth, after being sent a review copy of a new reprint by those very nice people at Telos. Piercy is knocked off her bike by a passing truck and hospitalised with a broken arm. That night a coronary patient in the same hospital has his life support intubation ripped out and walks out in his pajamas. Soon after he is found in a forest, trussed up and executed by a professional hitman. Not run-of-the-mill for the folk in sleepy Leak in Staffordshire …

I offer the following review for Friday’s Forgotten Books meme run by Patti Abbott at her fab Pattinase blog.

“Policing’s more than a full-time job. It’s wherever and whenever you’re needed. I haven’t got time to be a wife.”

Piercy has only been living in Leak for six years and as such is still thought of as a bit of an outsider – it doesn’t help that she is also considered a bit of a home-wrecker as her boyfriend, who is also the police pathologist, left his wife and daughter for her. Trouble is, even after a year together, she still doesn’t want to commit (and certainly doesn’t want any kids of her own either). So she focuses on her job – but with her arm in a cast and a Sicilian hitman in their midst, it looks like her case is also being taken away from her. Admittedly, she wasn’t making much progress. Although the man seemed to be a universally unloved solicitor (hated by his partner, wife and son), he was dying from a heart condition and had his heart attack after receiving a death threat that morning. So why would he be the object of a contract killing – who would pay to assassinate a dying man? It’s up to Piercy and her beefy sidekick Mike to figure out the motive while others take on the responsibility of finding the nasty Italian who charges eight grand a contract … and then one of the nurses from the hospital is strangled. There must be a connection, right?

“The injuries were incompatible with life.”

Masters_Wreath_telosThis is a quick and entertaining read that dispenses with nearly all extraneous material to focus on the essentials of the story. There are a couple of subplots relating to Piercy’s love life, but otherwise we only get the bare minimum to put the story across – and indeed are not given much of an indication at all on how the non-criminal related subplots, once revealed as red herrings, will in fact pan out. But then again, most of the supporting cast of characters is quite hard to like, so I can’t say I felt I was missing much. As such it offers an engaging enough narrative in which all investigations ultimately lead to events in a shared past and is populated with recognisable and fairly realistic (and often unpleasant) characters, very much in the mode of gritty but accessible TV drama. Piercy however is a bit of an underachiever for most of the story. She never seems to be making much headway and I was usually way ahead of her – it doesn’t help that she and her sergeant do tend to rush to judgement a bit too often. Indeed, for a police officer of such rank, she is often surprisingly naive, easily shocked by violence (she even exclaims “Gosh” in horror at one point), tragedy and deceit. It does make you wonder quite how she gained her degree in psychology, let alone make it as a Detective Inspector of several years standing!

“Okay,” he said. “You’re the clever inspector while I’m the stupid sergeant.”

It has to be said, the hiring of a Sicilian contract killer to right a wrong going back several years may be unusual but unfortunately comes across as utterly unconvincing too. The incongruity of the juxtaposition undermines the actions of the guilty party while the second killing, as so often the case in even the best whodunits, seems a bit superfluous – and again, is severely under-motivated. To cap it all, I did find Piercy’s dilemmas a bit of a chore. In a crowded marketplace when it comes to police procedurals about independent and stubborn cops, this seems to me to be defiantly middle-of-the-road mystery, short (250 pages), sharp and to the point if perhaps just a little bit thin. Perfect for mainstream telly.

Having said that, the genre has moved on a lot in 20 years and it may well be that time has not been especially kind to this book. I look forward to reading one of the more recent entries and see how Piercy and the series have progressed.

Scaring-CrowsThe Joanna Piercy series

  1. Winding Up the Serpent (1995)
  2. Catch the Fallen Sparrow (1996)
  3. A Wreath For My Sister (1997)
  4. And None Shall Sleep (1997)
  5. Scaring Crows (1999)
  6. Embroidering Shrouds (2001)
  7. Endangering Innocents (2003)
  8. Wings Over the Watcher (2005)
  9. Grave Stones (2009)
  10. The Velvet Scream (2011)
  11. The Final Curtain (2013)
  12. Guilty Waters (2014)

The first five books in the series have now been republished by Telos. For more information about the author, visit her homepage at: www.priscillamasters.co.uk

***** (2 fedora tips out of 5)

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48 Responses to AND NONE SHALL SLEEP (1997) by Priscilla Masters

  1. Thanks as ever for the candid and thoughtful review, Sergio. I’m glad you found some things to like about this one. I have to say I’m not sure I’d ‘buy’ the idea of a Sicilian hit man, myself. And I understand what you mean about Piercy’s professional performance. Your post brings up the interesting question of what the balance should be between a focus on the mystery and creating rounded, believable characters. I don’t know what exactly that balance should be, but I think it does need to be there.

    • Thanks Margot – I do look forward to reading a most recent book in the series as I hope it has managed to develop – a series that has managed to last this long must have done that I think!

  2. Santosh Iyer says:

    Doesn’t seem worth reading to me after reading your review !

    • Hope I wasn’t too negative Santosh – the book is nearly 20 years old, which can hurt a contemporary police procedural much more than standard whodunit that could be set any time between 1865 and now!

  3. Colin says:

    Not for me either, I’m afraid. Everything you mention comes across as either unconvincing or a box checking exercise. 1997 still feels pretty modern to me, and there’s been very little modern writing which has engaged me – more often than not, I’m bored by the routine and predictable nature of the majority of it. Sorry.
    To finish on a positive note, the 250 page bit at least seems realistic for a mystery.

  4. Todd Mason says:

    It sounds like a fair cop, your review (you have everyone’s permission to slap at me if I use the adjective “gear” at any point)…and indeed something a bit BROADCHURCH or SVU about the proceedings. I have to agree with Colin that I think you’re bending over backward to be kind to the series a bit…there are procedurals that are of their time that don’t insult the intelligent and experienced reader…and the Grind of series writing can tell even on the best of novel or television sequences…recent episodes of both THE GOOD WIFE and Armando Ianucci’s VEEP have turned in part on the kind of unforcced gaffes that political operatives at the level of the characters involved are unlikely to make, for example…but having them be that naive sure was plot-convenient.

    And, anyway, the hitman these days would be Polish, no? Those Easterners taking all the jobs away…

    • Us poor Italians just catch a break 🙂 I used to thoroughly enjoy Good Wife but I think I stopped around the end of season 2. I watch so little TV now (and don’t have a cable or satellite subscription) it’s not funny – though I have been catching Elementary (season 2) on DVD and really enjoying it. To give you an idea of my cultural deliquency when it comes to American TV, never seen Boardwalk Empire or Walking Dead, and still haven’t got past seasons 1 of Breaking Bad, Treme, House of Cards, Game of Thrones – well, you get the idea … (I reviewed them all for Sight & Sound but couldn’t repeat myself you see …)

      • Todd Mason says:

        Well…I’ve yet to catch the entire final season of BB myself, despite writing it up as a series to watch for, at my former gig at TV Guide, and can’t seem to generate much enthusiasm for either of the clangorous horror/fantasy series, either…Treme is another I’ve meant to get back to, and Boardwalk Empire was highly uneven in a way Justified, Shameless (US version), Borgen and The Good Wife have not been…been meaning to see the UK House of Cards first.

        • I enjoyed the original House of Cards (not least because Francis is a bloody Tory – can’t believe they made the US equivalent a democrat) and I do like the US version quite a bit. Never seen the US shameless but did enjoy the first season (natch) of Justified

          • Todd Mason says:

            Sadly, our Democrats too often are our Tories…we’ve had New Labor in the form of neoliberals and Cold Warriors before them for decades…while our Republicans try ever harder post-Reagan to anticipate and resonate with UKIP…

          • I believe history will recognise Obama as one of the true greats, though you’d never know it by all the crapola that gets spewed out in the media. How depressing it all seems – but hey, UKIP are the tanin-free Tea Party, surely … 🙂

          • Todd Mason says:

            Well…I tend to see Obama, like WJ Clinton, as another Tony Blair for us, though perhaps a little less hard on the poorest Americans. We’ll see if we can do a bit better this time out, but with another Clinton likely to beat whichever Republican attempts to appease Wall Streeters and Tea Partisans simultaneously, doesn’t seem likely.

          • realthog says:

            That’s about my appraisal too, although I think Obama could have done much more had he not wasted four years in doomed attempts to compromise with the rabid dogs of unreason.

          • Isn’t that interesting – I really think he did plenty in nearly impossible circumstances – did more for healthcare than anyone in 80 yeays, passed real fair pay measures, student loan reform, some real headway for pro-choice, and did more for the LGBT community than anybody else ever – it’ll more than do in face of the utterly insane GOP

          • realthog says:

            it’ll more than do in face of the utterly insane GOP

            Well, that‘s an easy hurdle to leap! 🙂

          • Actually no it isn’t – just look at the conversation we are having right now? A progressive, slightly left of centre President makes massive beneficial changes that has eluded practically all his predecessors since FDR and he gets treated like Hitler – and people buy it! The insanity and entrenched venaliity of it is genuinely terrifying to me.

          • realthog says:

            The insanity and entrenched venaliity of it is genuinely terrifying to me.

            I couldn’t agree with you more. Obama’s big problem was that he wasted four years trying to compromise with the mad dogs of the GOP. He could have, during those four years, rammed through a proper overhaul of the healthcare system rather than the vastly and detrimentally diluted version he eventually did.

            I write quite a lot about science denialism in the US. In the most recent book, for YAs, I bent over backwards to try to find examples of liberal science denial to “balance” the GOP ones — antivaxerism (in fact, spread all over the political spectrum, but the myth is it’s a lefty thing), homeopathy (genuinely a more liberal blemish), etc. I’ve still had a couple of negative reviews painting me as an unregenerate lefty because I dismiss creationism, the young (6000-year-old) earth, Flood myths, climate denial, the therapeutic power of prayer . . . The insanity is not the disagreement: it’s the belief that these are political, not scientific, issues.

          • realthog says:

            We should probably continue this natter off-list, to avoid boring the folks who came here to talk about crime fiction! You can my e-address off this comment: by all means feel free to email me.

          • But this is our sandbox and our pulpit 🙂 I’ll ping you outside of the Fedora territorial waters – and thanks as always for the great feedback!

          • Well, if Blair hadn’t turned out to be an evangelical schmuck a lot of what he did in terms of grass roots change and support for education and healthcare would have made him a hero – but no, sodding George Bush and BAE comes along and it’s like it never happened – gets me so mad!

          • realthog says:

            support for education and healthcare would have made him a hero

            Lemme see, he introduced those poisonous religious charter schools (I may have the terminology wrong) that have been teaching kids Creationism and other such crap. And, while he was certainly more supportive of the NHS than either Thatcher or Cameron, that’s not saying a lot.

            He also took a moderately left-of-center party and turned it into Tory Lite. Tory Lite? Worse than that: it was Tory Less Dark.

            One direct consequence is the political chaos in the UK right now. So far as I can see, a big chunk of the English electorate would like SNP For Everyone as a voting option, because the SNP is occupying that place on the political spectrum that used to be Labour’s.

            Another cause of that chaos is, of course, Clegg’s imbecilic decision four year’s ago to make the LibDems back Cameron. I know all his rationalizations for that decision; but he’d have been better to have let the parliament remain hung, with another election likely within months. My guess is he reckoned Blair had made Labour so toxic to many traditional Labour voters (and Brown hadn’t had time to do more than start pulling back from Blairite policies) that he was better off hooking the LibDems onto Cameron’s catamaran. As we see now, from the LibDems’ point of view that was a near-suicidal move.

            Is wot I think.

            *user ends rant, pulling himself with difficulty away from keyboard to go have cold shower*

          • You are referring to the various Faith schools? As I say, its the religious side of things that upsets me almost as much as the war. But I guess we are disagreeing here – as a grassroots supporter who lived through it all, what i saw was Labour pumpeing vast resources into health and education and made a huge beneficial impact on people’s lives. The record of the Tories, and the Lib Dems, is utterly disgraceful – anybody who tells you different is just trying to sell you something.

          • realthog says:

            Yep: I was a grassroots Labour supporter (even standing for Westminster Council office at one point) from the late 1960s until I moved to the US in 1999, although during those last few years I found myself in real ethical difficulties — Blair’s Labour wasn’t the party I’d worked for for decades. At the first election after my arrival here I had to face the fact that I would now have been more likely to vote LibDem than Labour, because the LibDems were closer to where Labour used to be than Labour were. Of course, Cleggie changed all that.

            It’s depressing that the three (traditionally) major parties in the UK have all become a parade of ex-public schoolboys in suits, isn’t it? I saw a photo the other day of Labour’s bright-faced campaign committee stepping out, all smart in their natty suits and ties, and to me they looked like a bunch of [ADJECTIVE REDACTED] Tory clones — the Stepford politicians. When I met (as one did in those halcyon days) people like the Kinnocks, they were knocking around in jeans. Y’know, like normal human beings do.

            Hm. I wonder how we got from Priscilla Masters to here? Hm. Your fault, because of your Obama comment. And Todd’s fault, for (justifiably) modifying your perception. Nothing to do with me, honest . . .

          • Actually I was just talking about the 80s and Kinnock, which is when I first started voting, and the way that it was reflected in Coe’s brilliant book, What a Carve Up. As a fairly committed Labour person, and one who votes Communist back home in Italy, I still remember the day John Smith died and how sad that was and how disappointed so many of my mates were by baby Blair – but I really thanks, with all the necessary qualifications, that a lot of really important things got done too. I hate the way Liberals do the job of the conservatives by beating themselves up, don’t you? It’s hobbled the Italian left forever (and yeah, the CIA propping up the Right didn’t hurt). But I really hate what the Tories have been doing to British social services and all their handouts to the rich and powerful, as if this government has a mandate, which it patently does not have. The Tories hated Blair for some very good reasons – the fact that it could have all been better doesn’t change my feeling that a lot of it worked and was worthwhile. But sure, blame me and Todd – we’re used to it 🙂

          • Todd Mason says:

            What do you mean “we”, Kemosabe? Or, well, paisan’ (though I guess whiny Democrats do still want to blame we Greens for Sandra Day O’Connor’s installation of W, to Al Gore’s apparent relief given how quickly he caved)…I see John has made nearly every point I would’ve made, except for all Obama talks, at times, slightly left of center, he rarely administers anywhere left of dead center, even in US terms, and too often too much to the center-right for my comfort. I’d suggest that Medicaid, the Johnson Admin program that has hardly been flawless, has been a hell of a lot more important and beneficial than the current privately-held insurance scheme, so kindly labeled by John as watered-down, that the Obama Admin has managed to put in place, and I’m surprised otherwise by your rosy view of him. FWIW, most Americans don’t actually buy the Tea Partisan line on Obama, even if, sadly, way too many do…which, alas, also doesn’t make him a hero. And I don’t see Obama as having taken the lead on LGBT matters, as one being mealy-mouthed about them at the beginning of his first term, so much as facing the reality that that’s one sort of bigotry that is literally dying out quickly in this country…and may other chauvinisms join it, sooner rather than later…

            Are you still bi-national, Sergio? I might vote SEL if I were an Italian citizen, but I’d certainly have to vet the party and its candidates of late…

          • I’m a dual national Todd, so i get to vote in both local and general elections and try to whenever I can (some local ones you can’t do b post yet) – I remain a committed commie when it comes to Italian politics. And I still think Obama deserves more credit than he’s getting – but hey – let’s regroup in 2035 and see what posterity says (she is a mean taskmaster, let’s face it).

  5. Priscilla Masters is new to me. I agree with Todd, the template for novels like this have a TV series feel to them.

  6. John says:

    Never heard of this writer but then I’m not at all keen on contemporary police procedurals that read more like soap operas of the lead character’s personal life than crime novels. Just finished LAST SEEN WEARING… (review coming next week I hope), one of the cornerstones in the modern police procedural. Even without all the usual forensic tech we get in 21st TV shows and novels Waugh’s book seemed to me very modern. Could’ve been written last year! Just goes to show sometimes the oldies are much better than the newbies. :^)

    • I remember liking the Waugh a lot but it’s been ages – must pick up on of his very soon – thanks for that John – looking forward to seeing more snister posts – you’ve been a bit quiet of late!

  7. realthog says:

    Swimming against the trend as usual, I think this sounds quite fun! (And the 250pp aspect is appealing, too.) I must see if I can lay hands on #1 in the series . . .

  8. tracybham says:

    I have found with some series that the earlier books are the best, and later ones get tired. And then with some, the author improves with age (or experience). It would be much easier if authors were just consistent.

  9. I had no idea Priscilla Masters had been writing so long – I only became aware of her recently, and was thinking of trying her. I can see (like relathog) I might even like this one, despite the flaws you point out!

    • I would be so curious to know what you think – i’ll gladly donate my copy if you are really interested Moira (not sending it to John – sorry mate but before sending something to you in New York I think it warrants a book that is more of a certainty in terms of quality!)

  10. New to me as well, Sergio. Joanna Piercy’s character seems to lack depth or maybe she’s not exactly convincing, I don’t know. I liked the covers even though I thought they were stark.

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