Pain of Death is the third novel in the DI Staffe, London-based series from Adam Creed. My thoughts on the first two can be found here: Suffer the Children and Willing Flesh. The title of the second can be used to take a quirky angle on the unique writing style of this author for Creed’s prose is unwilling to put flesh on the bones. His use of language is so economical that it’s like a series of stripped wishbones rubbing against one another – akin to falling dominoes – in a clickety-clack rhythm. But don’t make the mistake of thinking this is James Patterson territory – all plot, chase and tension – because it’s not. Creed’s style is illuminative and those carefully chosen words are crafted well to produce an engaging read of some depth.
Pain of Death opens with a woman discovered in a disused London underground tunnel. She is barely alive. It is only when she has been taken to hospital does it come to light that she has recently given birth. It is not long before an abandoned baby is found by one of Staffe’s team and a match is made between mother and child. Staffe discovers that the woman was not cut out to be a wife and mother – preferring to pursue her developing career at any cost and with no idea how to build a family life – that she had an unsavoury husband and dubious friends. But it appears that someone forced her to bear her child and at the time when a Private Bill is before parliament to reduce the number of weeks allowed for abortion. When another woman goes missing, the two cases are connected and Staffe now finds himself on a mission to save both mother and child…
The recent, real shenanigans in the House of Commons over a similar Bill (much diluted and then unsuccessful) prompted me to pick up this novel. News reports from the US have long-evidenced how fierce and misguided in action those with strong feelings can be, and the UK response to the proposed Bill was voluble. This is fertile ground for a crime novel and as avid readers already know: the good old crime novel is often a fantastically forensic window on its contemporary times, reflecting reality and provoking thought.
Creed’s Pain of Death may not have gone the way I’d imagined, but the unexpected remains a pull and that pull is in full force here. It’s gripping to the end, although I have to admit I remained slightly confused as to the motivation behind all the crimes and actions and feel the novel could have been trimmed. However, just when you feel that the denouement has been delivered along comes a second ending: one with a massive left hook from way outside the peripheral vision. The novel is worth reading for this alone. DO NOT CHEAT. As long as you don’t cheat, you will certainly be shocked. And you will be left with one very important and unanswered question.
Creed’s London is always gritty and real, with those struggling to find a satisfactory life existing in the shadows of the City’s tower blocks of unimaginable wealth and trading, and with Staffe finding humanity on both sides of the tracks.
Pain of Death can be read as a standalone, but certainly benefits from having read the first two in the series.