I was very impressed with A Kind of Vanishing – see my review here. Recommended by my mother, the book focussed on the disappearance of a little girl and was unlike anything else I’d ever read. I’d loaded this book onto my Kindle, and then got overtaken by all those old fashioned solid books stacked up by my bed – until Lesley came to talk to West Sussex Writers in an amazing interview. I recalled what a smart, original writer she was, and immediately turned to The Detective’s Daughter stacked in a dusty corner of my Kindle. Would I enjoy it as much as A Kind of Vanishing?
Kate Rokesmith’s decision to go to the river changed the lives of many. Her murder shocked the nation in the throes of celebrating the wedding of Charles and Diana. Her husband, never charged, moved abroad under a cloud of suspicion. Her son, just four years old, grew up in a loveless boarding school. And Detective Inspector Darnell, vowing to leave no stone unturned in the search for her killer, began to lose his only daughter, as young Stella Darnell grew to resent the dead Kate Rokesmith.
As in A Kind of Vanishing, Thomson takes a major event – Kate’s murder – and in addition to presenting us with a whodunit, which is every bit as engrossing as any in this crowded genre, she adds an extra layer. The theme of love and loss threads through this poignant, thoughtful read which took me in so many different directions that I soon stopped trying to second-guess where Thomson would take me next and simply enjoyed the ride. It’s a happy feeling when I can sit back and revel in the story and the author’s skill in telling it.
And if you’re a reader who appreciates complicated, quirky characters then you’re in for a treat. Stella, the detective’s daughter, is a sharp-edged young woman still trying to come to terms with her father’s decision to put the Kate Rokesmith’s case above his responsibilities towards his daughter and his wife. The other character struggling to cope with parental abandonment is Kate’s son, Jonathan, who was discovered near his murdered mother, aged four. We learn what happened to him once he grew up – another layer of loss woven into this murder that Terry Darnell didn’t manage to solve before he died.
I’m conscious that so far, I’ve managed to make this book sound as much fun as a dirge in dark – but there are shafts of humour running throughout the narrative. Stella, the main protagonist, runs a cleaning agency and has a slightly grumpy, enjoyably ironic take on humanity. She takes on Jack, who already has a night job driving trains but comes with his own dark reasons for needing to keep himself also occupied during the day. For reasons she can’t really fathom, she finds herself teaming up with Jack as she finds herself going back over her father’s notes regarding this one unsolved case that haunted him throughout the rest of his life. The case he was working on when he dropped dead of a heart attack…
In many ways, this is a classic whodunit, complete with an interesting pool of possible suspects, but what hooks me is the extra something else that Thomson brings. Her detailed, forensic examination of her cast of characters and the liberties she takes with viewpoint means there are short sections where I wasn’t sure whether we are in Stella’s memories, or in the mind of the dead detective, Terry Darnell – which breaks all the rules. However, I didn’t really care – because there are those writers who manage to make the Writing Rulebook redundant while they weave their own particular voodoo, and Thomson belongs in that exclusive club.
If you enjoy your crime fiction on the literary end of the genre, laced with interestingly different characters and an engrossing plot – I’ll guarantee you won’t see who did it until Thomson wants you to – then track it down. It’s worth it.