I’m a big fan of Lynda La Plante’s writing and the latest doesn’t disappoint. Murder Mile is the fourth book in the backstory series of Jane Tennison, famous from the book and TV series Prime Suspect. The story is set in 1979, during what became known as ‘The Winter of Discontent’ with widespread strikes and the coldest winter in more than a decade.
La Plante draws a wonderful picture of the difficulties women experienced in the male-dominated police force thirty years ago and, often, from their own family as well for failing to conform to the path expected of them. Detective Sergeant Tennison was a rarity and it was seen as unlikely, at least by the male officers, that she would progress much further up the ranks. The author makes the competing priorities Tennison has to deal an integral part of the sophisticated plot and we readers can only admire the determination of Tennison.
The tension builds when there are two murders in two days in her area – Peckham, a rough part of London. The newly-minted Detective Sergeant is anxious to prove her skills but her enthusiasm occasionally leads her into trouble and put-downs from her boss. All the team are working under incredible stress and getting little sleep as they desperately work to find any link between the two women’s deaths when, just a few days later, a third woman is found murdered in Peckham.
The author also treats us to insights into how class, privilege and homophobia impacted on policing in the 1970s. Lively characterisations of both police and suspects highlight the range of attitudes on such issues on both sides of the law. Personal relationships loom large in the tale, with questions of loyalty to friends distorting the judgement of senior officers. While Tennison herself deplores the prejudices on display, she has to work hard to be taken seriously, at times even doubting herself.
The story moves along at a cracking pace with a terrific twist at the end. It didn’t detract from my enjoyment that I hadn’t read the previous three books in the back story of Jane Tennison but I certainly intend to read them now.
Reviewed by Jan Kershaw
Rating out of 10: 9
Distributed by: Allen & Unwin
Released: August 2018