I first came across Paul Charles at the Harrogate Crime Writing Festival; last year, I believe. He sounded interesting, with a series set in Camden, London, so I made a note to follow up. It took a while to do so and by the time I did, he was also on to his second series, this one with an Irish setting. Thanks to some pretty good PR people at FMcM Associates in London, I have now read the second in this second series: Family Life.
And what a perfect title for this novel, published by Brandon. At the start of Family Life, various members of the Sweeney family arrive at the farm home of grandparents Liam and Colette for Liam's birthday. However, one of the offspring is late – the youngest son Joe, who has inherited the farm to continue Liam's good work – and it is Inspector Starrett who arrives in his place and to deliver some heartbreaking news, for Joe's body has been discovered at a site that was one of the sets for the TV drama The Hanging Gale.
All in family Sweeney are in shock and we soon learn that Joe was a 'good man' in all aspects. So why did the best of the clan die in such suspicious circumstances? Was he murdered? And if so, why?
Beyond doubt, Family Life explores its namesake title and delves into the personal and financial motivations of those we meet. But it also hits the hard edge of emotion and loss, and it brought tears to my eyes on more than one occasion.
Also, Starrett's life is not immune to the odd upset as the story unfolds, but we are treated to refreshing deviancy here. He's not a bordering alcoholic, but someone who is trying to give up the fags, in this case Players. He has a tenuous attachment to a woman, but it's not a vitriolic one. It's a "Can we engage again?" scenario of great intensity and subject to temptation in a proper adult world.
One area handled quite beautifully was the evocation of the children impacted by the case. One of the four siblings has two daughters and for one of them (Finula), she has just lost her favourite uncle. The elder (Bernadette) is at the stage of loss of innocence but right from wrong remains black and white, thus she proves to be a good source of information for the investigation. Humour is not far away when the children are involved. Here, the investigation goes a little off topic:
"Have you ever been shot at?" Finula asked in a very small voice.
"Have I ever been shot at?" Starrett repeated, knowing exactly what his audience was after. "Bejeepers, I'll tell you better than that: I remember during the big war…"
"You're too young to have been in the war," Bernadette said, rolling her eyes.
Starrett winked at her as her sister turned her attention to the electronic game she'd been playing with.
"Anyway, I was in the war and this submarine kept firing off at us, but we couldn't get at it because it was underwater."
"So what did you do?" Finula asked.
"Well, I swam out there to its periscope; do you know what a periscope is?"
"Of course we know; it's how personnel in submerged vessels monitor above-surface activity," Bernadette offered.