Reviewed by Gill Davies
After You Die is when the police arrive, and crime fiction begins. An explosion in a house in a village outside Peterborough leads to the discovery of bodies in the adjoining house. Detectives Zigic and Ferreira are sent to investigate. This is the third book in a series by Eve Dolan that began in 2014 with Long Way Home. That novel was a fascinating debut, focusing on the new populations moving into East Anglia – exploited by employers and traffickers and treated with hostility or violence by the local community and right wing political groups. In Long Way Home she introduced two detectives in the hate crime unit, themselves from ethnic minority families with experience of prejudice but also with cultural values that could occasionally be a handicap. DI Dushan Zigic is of Serbian origin – he is the fair-minded, calm and organised leader of the team. By contrast (as always with detective duos…), DS Mel Ferreira, of Portuguese origin, is more fiery, a loner with some reckless habits. Her temperament is more unpredictable since she was very badly injured in the last novel (Tell No Tales) and has only recently returned to work, still with mental and physical scars. By setting her detective series in Peterborough, Dolan can show a traditional society struggling to cope with rapid change. It is a growing city with a mixed migrant community but still inward-looking and very English; on the edge of Fenland but expanding with the growth of the south east economy and European migration.
In the first two novels of the series, the city was the focus but here the crimes have taken place in an outlying village, among the established white British middle class. So what can the hate crimes unit have to do here? Well, this isn’t Midsomer – it is a commuter village, its inhabitants relative newcomers, the cottages are unsightly, the people rather dull and conventional. Under the surface there is a lot of nastiness and all the characters seem to be concealing secrets. The house where two bodies have been found is where, a year before, Ferreira had investigated a possible hate crime. The car belonging to the mother of a severely disabled teenage girl had been vandalised and there had been incidents of abusive phone calls, assumed to be from “stupid kids”. The case was not pursued, seemingly at the mother’s request, so the detectives need to piece together the events of the intervening months. As they investigate the two deaths, they discover that the girl had been subjected to a year of constant and vicious harrassment on social media. This, then, comes under the hate crime unit’s brief.
The hate crime unit gives Dolan an ingenious way of introducing a murder investigation and simultaneously examining some contemporary concerns. These include the uses of social media, both the opportunities (for self-expression and argument) and the disadvantages (“trolling”) of internet access. She covers attitudes to disability and the right to die; the hard lives of full-time carers; and the divisions between parents and children. She focuses on a number of vulnerable children (including unborn ones): one was paralysed by a climbing accident because of an adult’s carelessness; another is in care after family failure; and the youngest is in protective custody for dark reasons we do not learn about until late in the novel. These issues are thoughtfully represented, and integrated well into the gripping and fast-moving narrative. Dolan’s characters are nice variations on the usual crime fiction stereotypes – Zigic is that unusual thing, a policeman with a good marriage and children he takes responsibility for; Ferreira takes the more typical male role as a loner with barely-controlled anger. The plot is well-made – suspects surface and disappear, new lines open and the reader is left guessing until the final revelation – which I certainly did not anticipate. This is a strong English crime novel, working well within familiar generic boundaries.
Eva Dolan, After You Die (Harvill Secker: London, 2016). 9781910701010, 380pp., hardback.
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