“Your future,” he whispered, “is my memory.”
I’d never heard of the author Belinda Bauer, but then I came across The Shut Eye, highly recommended by Cleo, a fellow crime aficionado who reviews at Cleopatra Loves Books. Cleo’s recommendation came with the caveat that she found the psychic element a bit off-putting, but I knew that if carried off by the author carefully, I’d rather like that different twist to a crime novel.
The book’s detective is Lewisham DCI Jack Marvel, a cynical hardened detective whose job has left him with a sour opinion of people, but he’s still a good detective with a “staggering” 84% solve rate.
The longer DCI Jack Marvel worked in homicide, the more he disliked people. He’d never met one he didn’t hate–or despise, at the very least–and he could see the bad in anyone.
It was a useful quality in a detective. Not so much in a human being. Murder was DCI Marvel’s favourite thing in the whole world–even above Sky Sports. There was no other crime that had the sheer black-and-white finality of murder, and it was one of the few things in life that he took personally. He was good at it, too. He had hunches and insights; he had the dogged obsession to keep going when everyone else had given up–not because he wanted to solve the crime, but because he hated to lose. Solving murders was a competition, make no bones about it. The killer won, or the cops won.
Marvel is working on a case of a murdered prostitute, but he can’t let go of the unsolved case of twelve year old Edie Evans who disappeared on her way to school over a year ago. Although the case was initially treated as truancy, the moment Marvel walks into the missing girl’s bedroom he “had known that she’d been taken.” It’s a gut feeling blended from experience, a feeling of the victim, and perhaps, just perhaps, something else….
There were no real clues about Edie’s disappearance except her abandoned bicycle and a few drops of blood nearby. Even a psychic, “Shut Eye” Richard Latham, is consulted in the case, but Edie is never found, and now, more than a year later, the case is cold and shelved.
Marvel, who we now know is a good detective but a crap human being, is like a dog with a bone when it comes to his cases, so he’s furious when he’s pulled off the case of the murdered prostitute and asked, in confidence by his boss, Superintendent Clyde, to help find his wife’s missing poodle, Mitzi. It’s a very funny scene when Marvel is shown a photo of “a buxom woman with too much lipstick sitting on a sofa.” Marvel thinks initially he’s supposed to find the woman, so he’s stunned when his boss tells him he’s supposed to find the dog that’s also in the photo. Marvel sees the favour as an opportunity to leverage promotion
It was his unshakeable view that everybody had a flaw in their make-up that allowed leverage to be exerted, and he liked to think he had a knack of identifying those weaknesses, those tiny human failings, that would give him the upper hand in any relationship.
So a very resentful Marvel begins investigating the case of the missing poodle, and this brings Marvel back to Latham. Meanwhile Anna Buck, a woman whose toddler went missing a few months previously also contacts Latham out of sheer desperation, and this is where all paths intersect….
That’s as much of the plot of this pageturner as I’m going to discuss. It could be argued that the plot is marred by coincidence, but that argument is refuted by the idea that coincidence is often orchestrated by some bizarre design, all compounded by watching the lives of our characters as they overlap like circles in a Venn diagram.
The emphasis here is on character, and for this reader, although the book opens with Anna Buck, who’s gone mad with grief, the main character here is Marvel. I loved the psychic element to the story, and appreciated the clever way the author showed families in different stages of grief. Edie’s parents, still standing together, have come to a horrible quiet acceptance that their daughter is most likely dead, but that doesn’t stop a desperate hope surging whenever Marvel calls. In contrast is Anna Buck, sinking into madness, who blames her husband for their son’s disappearance. At the lowest point in her life, she sees a psychic as the last possible hope, and meeting Latham has consequences that none of our characters could have predicted. Marvel, a misanthrope, and an antagonist to his own feelings, is the most interesting character here. There’s a lot to admire about Marvel but he lacks humanity–almost as though he’s afraid that benevolence will become a chink in his armour. Ultimately, however, it’s Marvel who emerges from these experiences as a better person, a man who has grown emotionally in spite of his best efforts to the contrary.