It's a crime! (Or a mystery…)

Die with Me – Elena Forbes

Diewithme When taking a risk on a début author – and yes, it is a risk – crime aficionados will want to know what is different about the novel; what is original about the novel; what might make the reader be prepared to trade their well looked after “nashers” for a set of dentures if the thrills are as good as anticipated from the blurb and synopsis on the sleeve, causing all sorts of tense jaw clenching.

  • So, before we start, what marks out this début novel from Forbes?

1.  It is very contemporary in feel and deals with the modern world, focusing on a phenomenon that has developed on the internet: some feel so down, but still so fearful to do the deed, that they seek a companion with whom to commit suicide.

2.  The plot of the novel involves a twist on the above; someone wants to take advantage of these lost souls and enjoy their deaths.

3.  The novel is set in west London and Forbes knows her “beat”.  I lived there for the best part of a decade and have keen memories of the places she explores – I can vouch for her knowing her “beat” in this novel.

4.  In a very interesting “other twist”, Forbes defies our prejudices of gender.  Women seek to understand their thoughts and motives, often thinking too hard; men just get on with life and never pursue the emotional side too much.  But here we have a protag, male, who is always examining his thoughts and emotions.  Not that he’s your typical metrosexual man either.  Far from it!  When he needs to get somewhere fast and his own two legs won’t do, he’s on two wheels, not four.  Neither does he take time out to seek a manicure/wax/facial.  A different kind of male protag?  You’ll find him here.  Yes, he’s single; but he’s not a loner and an alcoholic.  He tries, at all times, to be on top of things.  He’s sociable and intuitive.  Above all, he’s ambitious and his name is Mark Tartaglia.  More later…

5.  Marketed as a duo of fictional personalities for the future in this series, Fiona Blake (the pathologist in this novel) and Mark Tartaglia are not the only ones to have that future.  Sam Donovan, a member of Tartaglia’s police team has a strong presence in Die with Me and a good story to tell.  More of her, please.

But, back to the novel at hand, Die with Me

In a nutshell: a young woman has met her death in west London and it looks like suicide.  Delving deeper via police investigations, it becomes obvious that suicide was not the cause.  She was not alone at the time of her departure.  Other cases come to light.  Links for the cases are tenuous to say the least; but all revolve within a police team in turmoil where the leader is in hospital and not likely to come back to work…  Can anyone see the facts as they really are?

In Die with Me we do enter a world of turmoil.  There’s a police team based in Barnes in west London that has been successful and stable, but we open with its leader in hospital and unlikely to come back to work, due to some sort of disability from injury during a previous case.  All in the team want his survival and return, but things are unclear for a while, hence the eventual introduction of a new team leader, imposed upon Tartaglia and the rest.  All this, in the middle of a case where Tartaglia thought he had it sussed (and thought he was the lead).  But office politics being office politics, Tartaglia’s boss was too weak to handle the PR side of the case, so he delegated and brought in someone from another team…

Sam Donovan is a gutsy character, always a terrier’s teeth away on the next clue/situation in the investigation.  But she also has a personal life and pursues that too, as she thinks she deserves it.

There’s plenty around the “no-smoking” conundrum of day to day life – oh, how topical given the changes in the law recently.  Tartaglia wants to give up, but makes no real effort.  Donovan does make a real effort, seeking hypnotherapy and appears to succeed.  And a big thumbs up to Forbes here: she knows her treatments for giving up smoking, especially when it comes to hypnotherapy.  She really does now the background and reasoning behind the treatment.  However, I don’t think a hypnotherapist who treats those who wish to give up smoking would ever describe themselves as a “hypnotist”, as that group consider themselves professionals with “hypnotism” a mere stage show that brings the use of hypnotism within hypnotherapy into disrepute, causing all sorts of misleading perceptions.  That is a very small error, though, as Forbes is entirely accurate in describing how the treatment works and why.  Hypnotherapy has been misinterpreted for years, in the media, in fiction and in movies; Forbes recaptures the chance to state the reality.  Excellent research.

This is a page turner of a novel, densely plotted, with an abundance of welcome and deep characterisation.  I could not find a unique selling point (USP), as, in a nutshell, it’s a police procedural, set in London; but that defies the list I started with at the top, all of which mark out Forbes as taking a new and very contemporary view of what is happening in British society today.

So, do give this novel a try; I think it’s the start of a damn good series.  This is a novel to enjoy, page turn and experience thrills and wrong-footing when it comes to anticipation of outcome.  And I anticipate that Forbes’s next novel will be even better, as she is one to be keenly observant and have her finger on the pulse.

Now, there you go, I have finally found the USP for this début author – “finger on the pulse of contemporary Britain (perhaps the world) and its ills”.  In Die with Me, it’s the internet that crackles a conundrum; it’s a wonderful tool, but its limits relate to its end-users – human beings in all forms in real life, behind the flat screen of visual presentation.

And we are left with another hook or two to entice into the next novel in the series…  (I will leave you to read the novel to find out what those are.)

This is another début to catch in 2007.  Miss the boat and you might be sorry…


4 comments on “Die with Me – Elena Forbes

  1. Peter
    September 27, 2007

    1. It is very contemporary in feel and deals with the modern world, focusing on a phenomenon that has developed on the internet: some feel so down, but still so fearful to do the deed, that they seek a companion with whom to commit suicide.
    I’d be interested to see how she handles this. I’ve remarked more than once that, for all its supposedly revolutionary potential, the Internet has had approximately zero presence in books and movies. I’d want to see if Forbes gets at the heart of what makes this phenomenon creepy, at the attraction of the Internet and at it creey aspects, too.
    Detectives Beyond Borders
    “Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home”

  2. Maxine
    September 28, 2007

    Great piece, Crime Fic. I was going to write “great review” but it is more than a review.
    You’ve convinced me to try this. I was put off from it by the marketing which made it sound gruesome (but not as gruesome as another recent debut, Heartsick, that again seems from the early reviews to (to quote Sarah Weinman) “have more going on”.
    Anyway, on this one, you have convinced me. Shall probably wait for the PB though.

  3. crimeficreader
    September 28, 2007

    I shall refrain entirely from any comment in respect of yours, as to do so would give away too much of the plot for “Die With Me”. I’m sure you’ll understand and respect that, knowing you and your values!
    Another contemporary novel that uses the net, the dating sites that appear on it in particular, is Alafair Burke’s “Dead Connection”.
    People may connect via the net and the ability to hide behind a profile/nickname/stolen persona leads to a lot of risk. That makes for a vast opportunity for real crime as well as fictional crime.
    Personally, I chose a nickname for this site as I chose to protect my real identity, especially from the real risks of identity theft and stalkers. Some may not like the blanket of cover that I’ve employed, but I don’t care. What’s more important to me is having that blanket of cover to make it harder for those who pursue a negative and destructive way of life, making gain from those who are far too open on the net.
    Another novel that used the net and identity theft in particular, in the UK, was Margaret Murphy’s “Now You See Me”.
    But Peter, you are right. My reading in this genre is sparse really, but the net involvement is small, in my small sample. I expect that this might take off in future years. The real life cost of identity theft was recently quoted in the UK and it’s far too much to ignore, for example. It’s also a growing economy in its own right. People are paid between £1 and £1.50 for extracting the details of those who give away too much on Facebook and similar; this includes children, yet to make 18, who post with vigour and enthusiasm, not realising how much key data they are giving away. Their data is also sold as it can be stored for future use when they reach 18.
    The net may be a brilliant tool, but it also carries exceptional risks for fraud and crime and identity theft, in particular.
    “Use it wisely and informed” is my motto. I hope others do the same.

  4. crimeficreader
    September 28, 2007

    Thanks, Maxine.
    To clarify, I don’t think “Die With Me” is gruesome in any shape or form; it’s just real life and you won’t find a post mortem description in it worse than you’d find in a Cornwell’s Scarpetta novel. Indeed, I think this novel is subtle and leaves a lot to the reader’s imagination, which is the true enticement to tension, surely?
    As for the marketing of the novel, I did not venture into this in the post, but a reader contacted me to complain about the wrap-around which was of the variety “As good as Ruth Rendell, or your money back”. To a die hard Rendell reader and fan, this does not wash. They want more Rendell, and not someone in her image.
    A comparison to Val McDermid was also made it somewhere along the lines. Again, I’d second the comments from the reader – who needs a copycat? To attract a reader to a début, yes it’s good to draw comparisons to establish a level of quality to be expected, but above all, the novel has to be different in some way to succeed.
    Readers ain’t thick as a chair’s bolster cushion, after all.
    Crime & thriller fiction readers are always on the look out for new and challenging stimuli. Anything less will fail. Fact.

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This entry was posted on September 27, 2007 by in Books.