William Shaw’s Salt Lane is the first in the Alexandra Cupidi series, but the name and the locale, Dungeness, Kent, rang a bell. Cupidi appeared in The Birdwatcher, and since Shaw knows better than to waste a good character (the Breen and Tozer series), it’s not too surprising that divorced, single parent Cupidi is back.
In Salt Lane, Sergeant Cupidi begins to investigate the murder of a middle-aged woman fished out from a marsh. Even the coroner is stumped when it comes to cause of death, but as the days pass, the case becomes more complex. When Cupidi finally learns the woman’s identity, she makes the drive to London to break the news to her son, Julian. But this is when things become even murkier; Julian was adopted at age 2. His mother, absent for decades, was a heroin addict, and she turned up on his doorstep right around the time the murder victim was fished from the marsh. So who is the imposter? The worn out heroin addict who apologized to Julian and then disappeared or the dead woman fished from the marsh?
As Cupidi investigates, a second body is found. This is the particularly heinous murder of an illegal alien. Why was he herded into a manure slurry tank ? Are the two murders connected?
In The Birdwatcher, Cupidi ‘lost’ her first partner. For this book, she’s teamed with a younger woman, Constable Jill Ferriter. While Cupidi does not have the most winning personality, Ferriter still has the enthusiasm and naivete of youth, and the two women make a good team–although it takes a while for Jill to crack Cupidi’s defenses.
In Salt Lane, a tightly written atmospheric police procedural, Cupidi finds that she must dig back into the alternative culture of the 80s. At the same time, she also faces the impenetrable world of illegal employment. It’s a gray world which exists just under the surface, and illegals, who are “never anywhere for very long,” don’t want to talk to the police.
The novel is marred by two coincidences, but in spite of that, this is a highly readable novel, which is driven by the murder investigations. I really liked the location, and the author capitalizes on the area when it comes to atmosphere, idiosyncrasy of locals and method of murder.
Cupidi found the owner of the breaker’s yard in the lot behind the office. He was wearing swimming trunks and dark glasses. A man in his fifties, greying hair swept back across his head, sitting on a plastic chair next to a swimming pool with a can of lager in his hand.
The pool was surrounded by old tyres and rusting gas cylinders.
“Hard day at the office?”
His leathery tan suggested he was out here most days during the summer. He fancied himself; worked out a bit. His stomach was flat for man his age, his arms muscular.
“Work, work, work,” he answered, smiling. “What about a dip?”
Cupidi makes for an interesting series character and I enjoyed the inclusion of her mother as that made some of the puzzle pieces fit. As always with a series character, we get the case (or cases) at hand plus personal life. On the personal side, Cupidi has a problematic relationship with her teenage daughter, and work demands always take precedence. Cupidi transferred to this rural area after she ended an affair with a married officer in a different department. Cupidi watches Ferriter’s interest in another Constable and knows how these things can take a sour turn.
Seriously, these characters need to take their friggin’ cell phones with them for goodness sake. Plus Cupidi is going to have a short career if she keeps putting herself (and her partner) into these risky situations. I’m not a member of the police but even I can see that the risks Cupidi takes are over-the-top. And while I’m at it, Julian’s wife, Lulu is portrayed as somewhat of a nasty cow because she’s suspicious and unfriendly when a woman claiming to be Julian’s mother shows up out of the blue. My sympathies are with Julian’s wife. I wouldn’t want a smelly heroin addict moving in my home and hovering around my toddler. Call me heartless but just because someone gave birth to you doesn’t give them automatic rights–especially if they abandoned you and decided, decades later, to pop in and see how you’re doing.
While I guessed the perp, the novel kept my interest right up to the end, and if you read the review, it’s easy to see I felt involved with the characters here.
Now: just a couple of non-review thoughts I’m going to add here. Personal lives are personal lives, and while I understand work-place behaviour/ethics and potential sexual harassment suits, it seems a bit intrusive for ‘the Practice Support Team’ to question Cupidi as to whether or not she’s having an affair with a married officer in a different department. Since dickhead lover boy is in a different department, I’d file that under Cupidi’s PRIVATE life, but that’s me. Then at one point DI McAdam (Cupidi’s boss) stands to “lose his job, his pension, his reputation, everything,” under an IPCC investigation. That seems harsh when we are talking about a split second judgement call under pressure.