Nigel McCrery isn’t a household name in the United States yet, but he should be. McCrery has a fascinating vocational background, beginning with a stint as a police officer on the British Murder Squad and later as the producer of the British television series “Silent Witness.” Along the way, he has written an impressive number of novels. While he is best known for his mysteries featuring Dr. Samantha Ryan, his series with Mark Lapslie is equally as intriguing, if not more so, as demonstrated in TOOTH AND CLAW.
Lapslie, a Chief Inspector with the British Police, is an interesting enough character in his own right by virtue of his cases, but is made more so by his affliction with synesthesia, a neurological condition whereby his senses are crosswired. In Lapslie’s case, sounds strongly trigger certain tastes in his mouth. If this does not sound like a difficult condition, please keep in mind that not all of the tastes that Lapslie experiences are chocolate or a derivative. The condition over the course of the series has gradually worsened, to the extent that Lapslie has basically been assigned to home duties.
All of that changes when Lapslie is assigned to head up not one but two major murder investigations simultaneously, one of which involves the heinous murder of a television newsreader in her home, the other of which concerns the sole victim of a bomb that explodes at a British railway station. The crimes appear unrelated, yet, as the reader learns early on, they are both the accomplishment of Carl Whittley, a disturbed but brilliant young man who is guilty of so much more. Whittley has a very twisted motive for his multitude of sins, and he is on to Lapslie much faster than Lapslie is on to him.
Actually, that is not quite accurate. Lapslie senses Whittley’s presence without really knowing it at first; it is the method by which this occurs that forms the backbone of TOOTH AND CLAW, as these two adversaries switch roles repeatedly as hunter and hunted. Emma Bradbury, Lapslie’s sergeant, is there to help, and Lapslie needs all the assistance he can get as his condition not only worsens but also expands in a way that he does not anticipate. To make matters worse, police politics take their toll on him, to the extent that matters concerning his job status are not wholly resolved by the time the book concludes. The real meat of the novel, however, is the deadly dance between Lapslie and Whittley, who have more in common than they might suppose.
McCrery is a marvelous writer, possessed of a wondrous if grim imagination. One of Whittley’s victims is done away with in such a gruesome manner that it tops any method of murder I have come across in some 50 years of reading detective fiction (the previous winner was Rodent, a Dick Tracy villain in the daily comic strips). McCrery infuses his story with both irony and coincidence, to the extent that it is possible that TOOTH AND CLAW contains a bit of cross-polarization with his Ryan series. It will be a pleasure to read McCrery’s next offering to see if that is the case.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 23, 2011