The Fourth Victim by John Mead Police – Police Procedural and much more

Fallible police, unlikely suspects, multiple murders; this is a book that has it all. A contemporary murder mystery with some innovative narrative strands, but with much good solid police procedure. Without ostentation, Mead manages to give a sense of place and time which linger in the mind. His characters are desperately human, with all the humour, betrayal and loyalty of real people. This is a reasonably fast paced, surprisingly complex read, which combines the traditional methods of hunting for information with the inspiration of people. There is real insight in the writing as to what motivates people, and is an interesting picture of mystery and life. I am very glad that I was asked to read and review this novel.

Detective Sergeant Julie Lukula is quickly on the scene as a young jogger is found dead in a park by a nervous elderly woman. She quickly sums up the situation as more than a random attack, but there are disappointingly few leads as to who killed this apparently harmless young woman. She realises that the investigation will be lead by a man who is already on his way out of the department, the interestingly named Inspector Matthew Merry. She describes him to another police officer as “You’ll recognise him easily enough, he’s big and looks like he works in an undertakers.” As they break the worst news to families, the different reactions are fascinating. The police officers each emerge as having their own agendas, which sometimes conflict with each other and the needs of the investigation. I found Inspector Merry somewhat inconsistent in his behaviour, but Mead generally handles each character very well and deals well with even the most minor characters. I found myself carried along with the story as it twists and turns, incidentally presenting an interesting picture of twenty first century life. While there are parts of the environments described which are shabby and downbeat, a visit to Fort William in Scotland represents a refreshingly real break, even if somewhat confused by Merry’s moral behaviour. The painful details of families torn by grief and the lack of contact which is the lifestyle of others are snapshots of very human emotions well handled by Mead. He peoples the scenery of London with interesting individuals, before he explores the fragility of the mental states of certain people.

This is undoubtedly a confidently written book in which Mead gives the impression of an experienced eye trained on police procedure, criminal motives and, most impressively, all the people involved. While not gratuitously violent, this book does not hold back on being a real thriller and depiction of murder as well as not sugar coating people and their motives. The book is not filled with the simply good and bad; there are many possibilities in virtually every person. A small point is the interchangeable use of surnames and first names without any obvious consistency; the sergeant is often “Julie” as well as “Lukula”, whereas the Inspector also appears as both “Matthew” and “Merry” without apparent reason. This is a small criticism of a genuinely enthralling book which kept me involved and interested from the first to last page. I recommend it as a good read for many, even those not usually fans of crime novels, and Mead is an author to watch in the future.  

 

Meanwhile, the pursuit of nativity scenes continues. A few more offerings turned up so I may well get enough to put on a display, even if not fill the church. The “German Style Market” which runs alongside is also getting ready to roll out some hot and cold drinks and food. So, Christmas is coming!