“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.

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