Friday, June 16, 2017


WATCH HER DISAPPEAR by Eva Dolan (Harvill Secker, 2017)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

The body is found by the river, near a spot popular with runners. With a serial rapist at work in the area, DI Zigic and DS Ferreira are initially confused when the Hate Crimes Unit is summoned to the scene. Until they discover that the victim, Corinne Sawyer, was born Colin Sawyer.

Police records reveal there have been violent attacks on trans women in the local area. Was Corinne a victim of mistaken identity? Or has the person who has been targeting trans women stepped up their campaign of violence? With tensions running high, and the force coming under national scrutiny, this is a complex case and any mistake made could be fatal...

Eva Dolan has fast become a leading light among a new generation of British crime writers, combining tense police procedurals with quality writing, a fascinating detective duo, and crime tales threaded with up-to-the-minute social issues. Centred on Zigic and Ferreira and their Hate Crimes Unit, Dolan's series can be confronting, and is quite superb.

There are many things to like about Dolan's writing. One that stands out for me is a real sense of authenticity. Not just in terms of the details of a police investigation, but much deeper than that. There's a realness to the difficult subjects addressed in her books, the emotions of the characters, the varying opinions - the very human aspects of a crime for police, victims, families, witnesses, and others who identify with or fight for the vulnerable and abused. An emotional authenticity.

There's humanity amongst the dark deeds, a humanity in all its variances, good and bad.

The early books in the series dealt with discrimination and hatred towards migrants, and last year's excellent After You Die touched on bullying of those with disabilities. In Watch Her Disappear, Zigic and Ferreira are each battling challenges on the personal and professional front, when they're called to a killing in a local park that may or may not be a hate crime. The victim is a trans woman who was attacked when she was out jogging. Is this the escalating handiwork of a serial rapist police have been hunting, or was Corinne Sawyer targeted because of who she was?

Zigic and Ferreira have to tread carefully while trying to uncover the truth and catch a killer. Tensions are high: from fault lines in the victim's family, to fractures among the investigative team, to white-hot media scrutiny focusing on police failures to properly address crimes against trans people.

This is a beautifully rendered murder mystery with a thoroughly modern feel. Dolan not only delivers a tense page-turner, she provokes thought and tears at the beliefs of the characters (and readers). Shades of grey abound. The victim is neither the 'total innocent' pulling at our heartstrings of much modern crime, nor the 'hated by all' target of classic Golden Age. Instead, Corinne is a complicated person, who evokes similarly complex reactions in the reader. She, like all the characters, is wonderfully human. Flawed, different things to different people, capable of love and selfishness.

This is the kind of crime novel you can read and enjoy as just a cracking good page-turner, but it also offers up something more to readers who are fascinated by the complexities of human psychology and the melting pot of modern life. Top shelf crime fiction from a fresh and exciting voice.

Craig Sisterson is a lapsed lawyer who writes features for leading newspapers and magazines in several countries. He's interviewed more than 180 crime writers, appeared onstage at festivals in Europe and Australasia,  is a judge of the McIlvanney Prize, and Judging Convenor of the Ngaio Marsh Awards. Follow him on Twitter: @craigsisterson

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