I particularly enjoyed reading about one of Scotland’s pioneer policewomen in this first of a new series by Chris Longmuir. Towards the end of 1919, Kirsty Campbell moves from London to Dundee at the request of the Chief Constable, literally into uncharted territory as far as female police officers were concerned. Kirsty leaves behind a group of supportive friends in London, and a situation in which, if policewomen weren’t actually accepted, there were enough of them to band together and give each other strength. The fact that her family, from whom she has been estranged for a decade, lives in Dundee, is both a pull towards the city, and an additional source of anxiety for Kirsty.
A historical note at the end of the novel is useful in outlining the relationships between the suffrage movement and women entering the police force in the British Isles, and it’s no accident that Kirsty has been a suffragette. I found the historical details fascinating, from the uniform, which included knee-length army boots, to the duties women were considered capable of carrying out. They were often referred to as ‘statement takers’ though they were trained in jujitsu as a form of self-defense.
Kirsty’s relationship with her superior officer, Inspector Brewster, is well developed as the story unfolds, with Brewster ambivalent towards her, not knowing what to do with her, yet grudgingly admiring as well. The constables Kirsty has to work with are more inclined to mock than to give her a chance, and her father, when she plucks up the courage to visit him, is adamant that she should give up her foolish notions of independence. Her relationship with her parents is complicated by her relationship with her ‘sister’, Ailsa, who becomes a central figure in a plot involving missing girls.
I found the working out of this mystery less satisfying than other aspects of the novel, a mystery containing sexual predation, abuse and murder, spiraling around an orphanage and its staff, and the family of a man whom Kirsty knows from her former life in Dundee. Both the mystery and its resolution lacked depth, in my opinion. There was too much action and not enough reflection – the teasing out of possibilities and the weighing up of alternatives which can make a crime novel so enjoyable to read. It seemed inconceivable that Kirsty, given her intelligence, was gullible and blind where the main perpetrator was concerned.
That reservation aside, I enjoyed the historical setting and the characters and I would certainly be interested in reading the next book in the series.
I have given the book 4 stars.