Robotham followed The Suspect with a series of related novels in which he develops one of his character ensemble. The Suspect was narrated by Joe O’Loughlin, psychologist – who just happens to have young onset Parkinson’s. O’Loughlin appears as a minor character in The Drowning Man and is featured in The Suspect, Shatter, and Bleed for Me.
The central character and narrator is Vincent Ruiz, the “old school” police detective who appeared in The Suspect. He’s also the titular drowning man – fished out of the Thames with gunshot wounds and no idea of how he got there. But he knows that there was something important that he hadn’t finished… and his employers, the Metropolitan Police, know that he wasn’t working on an official case.
Joe O’Loughlin turns up to help Ruiz recovery his memory, and also comes along for the ride on a field trip or two, as Ruiz uncovers a convoluted story of kidnapping, dysfunctional families, misdirection, and organized crime. As a reader, I enjoyed the ride, but found parts of the story a little implausible – not least the extraordinarily complex kidnapping plot.
The central character is Alisha Barbra, a female Sikh police officer who first cropped up in The Drowning Man. The plot centres on her estranged childhood friend, Cate, who suddenly needs Ali’s help – and on the nasty business of people trafficking. Ruiz – now retired – is here, but O’Loughlin isn’t.
Once again, Robotham goes for the big stuff – international crime rings, coerced surrogacy and prostitution all feature prominently. Barbra and Ruiz get to go to Amsterdam, and I don’t think I’m giving an awful lot away if I say that the title derives from transport between the Netherlands and England.
Professor Joe O’Loughlin owns this one. He’s moved to Bath, where he’s lecturing at the University. Somehow, he gets roped in to trying to talk a suicidal woman down from Clifton Suspension Bridge. But she jumps anyhow. And then her teenage daughter comes to visit him, convinced that her mother would never have jumped. The local police are convinced it’s a suicide. End of. So Joe ropes in Ruiz, who cannot resist a bit of detecting now and then, and they find enough to get the police back on board. And then there is another, similar killing…
Interspersed among O’Loughlin’s first person narration is another narrative, presented in italics. It seems to be that of the killer, who presents himself as a secret ops military type, skilled at breaking people’s minds. O’Loughlin pits himself against this character – his nemesis – but finds himself and his family drawn into the web.
Robotham also introduces a new character, Detective Inspector Veronica “Ronnie” Cray, who seems so very distinctive that I imagine he’ll be returning to her in later novels. However, I’m rather irked by the constant harping about her wearing mens’ shoes. Her choice of footwear seems to be inextricably linked to her sexuality (yes, she’s gay, but Robotham seems curiously reluctant to say so). Why the heck should this be? I have been known to wear mens’ shoes – having size 9 feet can make buying ladies shoes difficult and expensive. And sometimes mens’ shoes are more comfortable and more practical. Is there some social cue that I have missed?
This the first in the series that doesn’t have a first person narrator, which made me fear for the future of some of the characters (it’s hard to kill off a first person narrator). The story moves between several characters, following their actions and thoughts, focussing on Ruiz – the retired policeman who can’t manage to keep out of these things – and on a new character, the hapless Sami Macbeth, who has a talent for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Macbeth served a prison sentence for an offence he didn’t commit and, as a consequence of further misunderstandings, becomes a wanted terrorist suspect. As events spiral out of Macbeth’s control, Ruiz is trying to put the pieces together…
We’re back in Bath. Joe O’Loughlin is separated from his wife – she objected to his crime-solving activities having put their daughter and herself in danger – and is living close to his family with a soppy labrador called Gunsmoke for company. But teenage daughters are a magnet for trouble, and this time it’s his daughter’s best friend, Sienna, who attracts it. Her father is brutally murdered in her bedroom, and the police seem to think that Sienna did it. Joe’s daughter is sure that Sienna is innocent, and daddy feels obliged to help clear her name.
Ruiz gets involved (of course) and Veronica Cray is their woman on the force. All sorts of nasty stuff gets uncovered, with several flavours of blackmail, sexual abuse of minors and a high profile court case concerning a racist attack. Once again, things get personal for Joe as the bad guys try to dissuade him from his investigations (maybe one of these books will let him solve the case without being threatened), and he manages to get himself arrested. Every now and then, Robotham remembers to include some Parkinsonisms, but I can’t help wondering at the apparent ease with which Joe sometimes give chase – vaulting over obstacles – when there was an earlier reference to his shuffling gait. Dyskinesia gets him into trouble, exacerbating the circumstances of his arrest, and he experiences problems with the short term supply of his medication.
Both this book and Shatter have Joe referring to his condition as “Mr. Parkinson”, a curious anthropomorphism for the man of science that Joe is supposed to be. Other reviewers have found this annoying, but it’s really only a minor irritant.
The Wreckage hasn’t been released in paperback yet; I haven’t read it. A glance at Amazon reveals that it’s a Ruiz novel, with a new character – journalist Luca Terracini.
Buy the novels at Amazon UK: