Tuesday, July 13

Dead Beat - Val McDermid

Kate Branningan is a Mancusian, independent, and a PI. Her usual remit involves data tracking, phone calls and hours in front of a computer screen, so her current task – tracking down a group of counterfeiters, or ‘schneids’ – is proving a little more adventurous. Between stakeouts, surveillance and multiple roadside cafĂ© meals, Kate’s highest priority is a quiet evening home. So when her live-out partner Richard, a music journalist, leaves her a note headed ‘don’t forget’ – a sure sign he forgot to tell her something, she was in no mood to attend rock star Jett’s party. But she owes Richard for a work function he attended, and so she frocks up and sallies forth.
Kate has no inkling that this act will result in her working for Jett, tracking down the location of his one-time partner (in life and song writing), Moira Pollock, nor that this job would find Kate investigating her first murder case.
The author of the justifiably well-known Tony Hill/Wire in the Blood series has crafted a new, and interesting but less complex character in Kate. There’s certainly more humour in Dead Beat than in the former series, and the characters are well rounded. I enjoyed the writing, and the plot developments, which were twisty enough to be absorbing without straining incredulity.
The biggest problem I had with Dead Beat was that there were multiple incidents that dated the novel, published in 1992. Many of these were tech-related, and though Kate was undoubtedly cutting edge when *Dead Beat was written, having references to “turbo charged IBM compatible” computers, PBX phone systems, Railroad Tycoon (“the ultimate strategy game”) and an explanation of Tetris (“a game that sounds simple but isn’t. The object is to build a solid wall out of a random selection of differently coloured bricks”) solidly sets the scene almost two decades ago. That’s even without an episode of Dallas, and the admiring references to turquoise and gold shell suits
I did enjoy the journey, but every single time I came across these anachronistic references, I was jolted out of the story. I know that a degree of these are inevitable – there’s no way an author can predict technological progress, and these elements often need to be included in contemporary-set novels to give a sense of place. So although I quite liked the reading experience, I’m not sad to be leaving Dead Beat at Changi airport, one fewer book burdening my journey through life. - Alex

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