- Between Two Evils, by Eva Dolan. Raven Books. $36.99.
The police procedural, which reputedly began with Dickens' Inspector Bucket in Bleak House and Collins' Sergeant Cuff in The Moonstone, is now a staple of crime fiction. British crime writer Eva Dolan excels in the sub-genre.
Between Two Evils is the fifth in Dolan's series featuring Inspector Dushan Zigic and Detective Sergeant Mel Ferreira. In the previous novels, they worked in the Hate Crimes Unit, "investigating the hate-based offences that had consumed their professional lives for the last seven years". But the unit has been "mothballed" and the detectives returned to CID. As a result, their caseload had quadrupled but Ferreira "no longer felt like they were helping people. Just keeping the peace."
Ferreira and Zigic are based in Peterborough and, as Between Two Evils begins, they are called to investigate the murder of a young doctor, Joshua Ainsworth, in the nearby village of Long Fleet, notorious for the Immigration Removal Centre on its northern edge.
It holds up to 300 women and children waiting for decisions on their asylum status or deportation. Two years before, a whistleblower had exposed a pattern of sexual abuse and manipulation at the centre and, as a result, the governor had lost his position as well as many of the guards.
Ainsworth worked in the medical bay of the facility. Securtect, who run the centre, are reluctant to allow the police access and Ainsworth's medical colleagues have obviously been instructed not to comment on conditions or the purge two years before. However, the police learn that Ainsworth had resigned two months before his murder. The official reason given was stress.
Initially the police suspect members of a protest group, Asylum Assist, who hold a daily vigil outside the gates of the centre. Threatening leaflets have been found in Ainsworth's cottage. However, one of the organisers tells Ferreira that "Josh was different ... he genuinely cared about the women in there. He hates what the place was, what it represented, but he knew that somebody needed to make sure there was a safe space for the women".
At the same time, Lee Watson, a prolific serial rapist is released from prison, his conviction overturned on a technicality. Arrogant and violent, Walton now believes he is untouchable and he seeks revenge on the members of the Hate Crimes Unit, which put him in prison. He targets and stalks Ferreira, threatening her life.
The plotlines combine to tell a tense and compelling story of the physical and mental abuse of women. This is crime fiction at its best, as it not only details the detection of a terrible crime but also explores one of the most challenging social issues of our time.