Patricia Hall: Death in a Far Country
13th Ackroyd and Thackeray – 2007

It’s a dark night and two young girls are running for their lives. One
falls and makes her friend go on without her. For her there is no escape
as their pursuers close in…
The following morning the body of the young girl is found in Bradfield’s
murky canal. DCI Thackeray, just back at work after a bungled operation left
him critically injured, takes on the case in a town transfixed only by the
chance of football glory. No one seems able to identify the body or offer
any clue as to how she died. Even Thackeray’s girlfriend, reporter Laura
Ackroyd, seems distracted by the beautiful game and the newly appointed
woman chairman who has infuriated the local football establishment simply by
being there. The dead girl’s chance of justice is looking bleak when, to the
investigators’ surprise, their two inquiries collide in a morass of
corruption and violence which threatens to put Laura Ackroyd’s life and DCI
Thackeray’s career in danger.<< (publisher’s blurb)

Phew! What a relief; after the disappointment of the previous
book in the series (Sins of The Fathers) this is a very welcome
return to form from Hall. The reason for this is simple – she
returns to her natural terrain; so spooks (spies) and Ireland are
replaced with human trafficking, forced prostitution, male
violence, immigration, race, financial corruption and,
linking the issues together, football. It occurred to me, as
I read, that it is amazing that more mystery writers have
not used football as a setting. The modern game is the
locus of so much corruption, money, violence – and
strangely enough on the day I write this another footballer
is under investigation for assaulting a woman. When Hall
writes about social injustice she is very much on home ground,
and there are few better Britmyst writers around. Here the
story of Elena, the girl on the run who has been trafficked
from Albania, is at times almost unbearable. The book makes
the reader, like Laura Ackroyd, very angry.

This is not to say there are not weaknesses in the book. The most
glaring of these is that there is a whole sub-plot concerning
the police investigation, which has been launched into the
events which occurred in Sins of The Fathers. This sub-plot
would be largely unintelligible to those who have not read Sins
of the Fathers, but even for those who have it is not that
interesting, and is a diversion from the events of this book which
are quite compelling enough in themselves. The ‘Preface’
has all the faults (and cliches) which we have discussed here
before – but mercifully it is very short. Ackroyd and Thackeray’s
relationship continues in a perilous state, which has been wearing
for a number of books – though in fairness a crisis point eventually
arrives and it seems as though some sort of development may
be in train. And the conclusion of the book is rather forced
and hurried – did Laura once again have to put herself in
physical danger?

But overall these are cavils because the main book’s main
plot-lines and themes are so strong, so genuinely horror-
inducing (for me this kind of sociological horror, real
horror which I know is occurring in my world, beats
any number of psychologically warped serial killers),
so interesting that they overwhelm the deficiencies.
As a writer of this kind of ‘sociological suspense’ Hall
is up there with the best, which makes it all the more
disappointing when she leaves her natural territory.
Books like this need writing.

(December 2007)