On Dangerous Ground – Lesley Horton

LhThis is  Horton’s second book in her series featuring DI John Handford and DS Khalid Ali; the third, “Devils in the Mirror” was published by Orion in September 2005.

Handford and Ali made their debut in ”Snares of Guilt” – a book I enjoyed so very much.  Thus, I looked to forward to reading “On Dangerous Ground”…

In a nutshell: A young girl’s body is found in Bradford, and the circumstances make it seem like another in a series of murders.  But there can be no “series” for these crimes, as the common denominator is that the first two victims were child prostitutes and no one managing the city will acknowledge that child prostitutes exist on their turf.  Handford just happens to be in the vicinity when the most recent body is found and he’s busy with an investigation concerning a young boy’s death by hanging, which is not all it seems.  But, Handford’s presence at the time of discovery of the girl’s body and his reputation based on previous cases propel him into an investigation and a situation he’d prefer to avoid.  And for DS Ali too, that investigation is too close to home, but for other and more personal reasons…

This is a story that again ploughs into the gritty reality of inner city life, within a city of significant multi-cultural existence.  Horton explores that gritty reality and is also not afraid to explore the tensions that exist within a community of mixed cultures.  It’s “no holds barred” here; Horton delves, explores and enlightens us.  It’s not just about plot – which is a cracker – it’s also about understanding how lives are lived.  She doesn’t just tell you that there are child prostitutes; she also provides insight into how those children arrived at their destination and how they live, when in it.  Neither is Horton simply aiming to educate us; what she tells us is always strictly important to the plot – what we learn, we learn along the way and we can only have a better understanding as a result.

“On Dangerous Ground” is a page turner.  And again, like “Snares of Guilt” we are with the police as they discover facts and clues and, more importantly, make mistakes in interpreting them.  When I read a Horton novel, I really feel like I am a fly on the wall in the police room.  That, I think, for Horton, is her unique selling point.  She tells it like it is, almost like a documentary, but without the need to accompany detectives through their hours of review of reports and form filling.  We get the main points and we get them at a good pace and we also see how they can be interpreted incorrectly.  With Horton, the police are human, just like us.

Both Handford and Ali have some personal issues to face in this book, either related to work or entirely independent.  Horton again explores the tension of one set of values against another with extreme sensitivity.

I honestly think that Horton has carved a sub-genre niche of her own.  I’ve come across no other book type that delves into this arena, let alone in such an accomplished way.  She lets you see the mistakes that the police can make and also probes the pressures that exist when two cultures collide in one city, and in one police force, and in one friendship.  She also lets us know how it can ultimately work; when we manage to see across the divide of culture and view ourselves as simple human beings, seeking the same goals.

A focus on society yes, but also a great plot, great characters and extremely good writing.  If you’ve not read Horton yet, I recommend you start with the first in the series, “Snares of Guilt”, as it would be such a shame to miss out on so much wonderful writing.