“DCI kate Daniels really is an outstanding contemporary crime fiction character”
The rise in popularity of regional crime fiction has been a welcome development over recent years, but it strikes Crime Scene that very soon there won’t be a site of historical interest in the whole of Britain that hasn’t played host to a (fictional) corpse. Thanks to Mari Hannah’s latest novel, any tour of literary crime scenes will now have to take in Winter’s Gibbet, a real-life gallows that stands as a reminder of a notorious 18th-century murder in the Northumberland village of Elsdon.
The sixth novel in Hannah’s series featuring DCI Kate Daniels begins with the discovery of the body of a young man, well known as a champion amateur wrestler, who’s found hanging from the gibbet. This mystery has DCI Daniels searching for secrets among the isolated communities who live against the eerily beautiful backdrop of rural Northumberland, which is described by her as, “God’s country to some. Hell on Earth to those without a soul”.
Daniels is supposed to be going on holiday with her on-off girlfriend, Jo, the nice criminal profiler, in a bid to salvage a relationship that’s been teetering on the brink of disaster throughout the series. Needless to say, coppers rarely if ever actually get to go on holiday in a crime novel – the insurance premiums for fictional sleuths must be through the roof – and Daniels is concerned that the officer who’s meant to be covering her leave, a neanderthal bully named James Atkins, has a connection to the murder victim which he’s attempting to keep under wraps.
The trouble is that Atkins has a hold over Daniels: he knows the truth about her sexuality, which is something she’s kept secret for years. Police procedurals rarely win nongenre awards, but Hannah scooped the Polari First Book Prize for her 2012 novel, The Murder Wall, in recognition of its exploration of the LGBT experience. Hannah’s novels are about a profession in which openly gay people still suffer from the sort of discrimination that’s largely died out in other fields. She writes superbly about Daniels’ struggles with her conscience, as she reluctantly keeps her sexuality a secret from her fiercely loyal team.
Daniels really is an outstanding contemporary crime fiction character: compassionate despite her toughness but no goody-twoshoes, as reflected by her flirting with sexpot artist Fiona while Jo’s off the scene. Chilly Northumberland somehow seems to get a little warmer with the knowledge that DCI Daniels is determined to protect ordinary folk from the forces of darkness.