Harm's Reach

Written by Alex Barclay

Review written by Judith Sullivan

Judith Sullivan is a writer in Leeds, originally from Baltimore. She is working on a crime series set in Paris. Fluent in French, she’s pretty good with English and has conversational Italian and German. She is working to develop her Yorkshire speak.

Harm's Reach
Harper Collins
RRP: £7.99
Released: October 9, 2014

The hook on this one is that protagonist, Ren Bryce is bipolar. The story, told in the third person, is interspersed with Bryce’s first-person comments alluding to her ups or downs or in-betweens. The good news is these italicized asides do not interrupt the story. Less good is I found there are a bit too many of them.

All that said, this is a good read. Bryce is an FBI special agent in a bureau in Colorado, struggling with containing her disease and picking whom to tell and whom to keep in the dark. The central mystery begins with a car crash which is revealed to involve the driver being shot. The victim is a young Irish immigrant to the US named Laura Flynn and if that’s not a nod to David Lynch’s Twin Peaks, I’ll eat my hat.

The woman has been working as an au pair to the familiar trope of a mystery novel character – the handsome zillionaire. In this case, the Richard Branson type is one Robert Prince, son of an equally rich father and a giver of monies to Catholic causes. He is married to a beautiful Swedish onetime model (of course) named Ingrid who is expecting their first child. He has many dealings with an organization so closely modeled on Opus Dei, Dan Brown would surely approve.

The plot thickens and extends to Lynch’s native Ireland, and to a somewhat out-of-place new agey commune in a disused nunnery called Evergreen Abbey, not far from this is Safe Streets, a center for troubled youth.

As Bryce pursues the Lynch/Prince she teams up with friend Janine Hooks who happens to investigate cold cases. The Janine/Ren relationship was one of the high points of the book for me – intelligent, believable, sexually grown-up. The two women discover a possible link between the Lynch killing and a local murder from decades back.

A third plot strand comes across as less believable and that involves a self-styled super evangelist with the unfortunate moniker of Howard Coombes. You just know he’ll be up to no good

I liked the way the Janine/Ren dynamic duo pulled all the loose ends together, even those stretching all way back decades. The verbal interplay between them and their relationships with other colleagues were similar to the life-like banter of Scott & Bailey on UK television. It drives the personal and the professional elements of the plot and keeps the reader feeling at home with the characters.

I am keen to learn more about Ren Bryce’s adventures and do hope she can reconcile her bipolarity with a happy home life with her nice special agent boyfriend and further cleverly resolved investigations. Lousy title. Pretty good book.

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