Conspiracy theorist Will Applewood is convinced his friend Jamie, an investigative reporter, didn’t commit suicide by truck as a vegan protest against a meat distributing company, but nobody’s interested – the coroner’s given his finding and Jamie’s family (an estranged sister) agree. Mired in a case against one of Britain’s biggest supermarket chains, Will is represented by barrister Trish Maguire, the only person Will thinks will listen to his concerns. His business destroyed, his marriage over, living with his increasingly less supportive sister, and still filled with rage over his treatment at the hands of Furbisher’s, Will isn’t as credible as he’d like. But once he’s testified he’s at a loose end waiting for the case to wind up, so he starts investigating on his own. And Trish, forced to miss out on a family holiday to Australia with her partner and half-brother (thanks to the case extending through the summer), has a little more time than usual for windmill tilting. When she then falls victim to food poisoning her interest in tainted meat takes on a personal aspect.
I have thoroughly enjoyed each of the Trish Maguire series, and Keep Me Alive was no exception, though it was (very slightly) marred by my inability to read the series in order – I read this just after Poisoned Mind (see below), which is set four years later, which was a little annoying. However that’s clearly in no way a fault of the novel, which is deft and complicated without being obscure or snapping belief.
The interlocking central themes (involving price cutting, large chains versus small business, profit over safety and quality) are particularly relevant in light of the global economic crisis, and the characterisation is, as always, spectacularly accomplished. One of the joys of following a series is watching the development of the regular characters, and Trish’s growth has been particularly interesting, but in Keep Me Alive I was more strongly attracted to the unsympathetic-despite-himself portrayal of Will, who is more three dimensional than most of Cooper’s non-core characters. Though paranoid, angry and inconsiderate, he has integrity and passion, and welcomed his every appearance. This is a series that continues from strength to strength – my only recommendation, if you chose to embark on it, is to read each book in order. - Alex