Susan Kelly: Little Girl Lost
(3rd in the Gregory Summers series)

A little girl, Emilia Troy, goes missing. Her father is Roger
Troy, a brilliant scientist, who had a complete breakdown
after the death of his wife, Joanna, Emilia’s mother. He has
only recently come out of hospital and regained custody
of Emilia with the help of Concepta, a nurse at the hospital;
they obtained custody in the face of the determined and
angry opposition of the Emilia’s social worker Joshua
Salem; as Joshua has also disappeared suspicion naturally
alights on him. But events then take a surprising turn.

Although I liked this least of the Summers series so far this is
a fascinating book. Kelly’s theme is mental illness, and this is
carried through into the personal lives of the police in the form
of the Alzheimer’s of Megan Davies’s father. Megan is Summers
new DCI – in the first two books of the series the previous
two DCI’s have both left Summers team under more or less
of a cloud. Indeed Kelly makes pretty extensive use of the
various personalities in Summers’ team; however when it is
the case that a particular officer only appears in one book it
is sometimes hard to recall their particular story. So we have the
mental illnesses of Roger Troy, Aled Davies and later another character.
But these illnesses are treated very differently. In the case of the
first two the treatment is what I would call sociological, which is
Kelly’s area (she is like so many of today’s writers primarily a
writer of sociological suspense); that it is to say she observes
the illness externally – its’ effects, its’ treatment and so on. The
characters are primarily seen from outside by both Kelly and
other characters in the book. All this works pretty well, although
Kelly, as I have remarked before, tends towards the conventional
in her observation. But there is good stuff here on the state of
our mental hospitals and on the role of social workers and the
adoption/child custody process.

In the latter half of the book however, with the third character, Kelly
adopts a different approach which we can call the psychological
or the Rendell/Vine approach. Now one can see the difference between
the sociological and psychological approaches very clearly in Rendell’s
later Wexford (sociological) and her non-Wexford’s/Vine’s(psychological)
books. But here we have the two approaches in one book which
makes it somewhat of an ideal study! :). In the psychological approach
the madness is primarily portrayed from within; that is from the
mad person’s viewpoint. It is their view of their world, their account
of their actions which is presented.
Now (and I know I have over the years bored everyone about this)
I in general dislike this approach. I recognise that in the hand of a/the
supreme practitioner – Rendell – it can sometimes come off with devastating
effect – but I am far from convinced by some of Rendell’s efforts. In the
hands of lesser mortals I have never known it to come off. Not only do
I find the accounts of the mental processes of the criminally insane
wholly unconvincing, but this switch to the psychological always
seems accompanied by a complete disintegration of what remains
of the sociological. The characters involved always seem to come
from, or have been through, a background of abuse/drugs/prostitution/
crime/vagrancy et.c etc. (take your pick). And this background is
portrayed, presumably because it is outside the writers experience,
wholly unconvincingly. Kelly’s writing of this character is a classic
example – I find the account of the characters mental processes
fantastic and as I say Kelly’s sociological touch completely deserts
her.

Having said all this the first half of the book is goodish and it pulls
itself together right at the end. And it is fascinating to be able to
‘compare and contrast’ the two dominant approaches to modern
Brit myst writing in one book.

(A final note – the book is set at the time of the foot and mouth crisis
and this forms a minor theme; Kelly’s treatment is however perfunctory
and not to be compared with that wonderfully achieved in Aline
Templeton’s Cold in the Earth).

(June 2007)

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