May 12th, 2020 by Jane Turner
I’ve been reading Richard Whittle’s Ground Rules, as part of damppebbles Blog Tour, and with thanks to Emma Welton. I read the Kindle version, published on 9 Mar 2020 – links at bottom of the page. I received this copy free, and offer a review for you.
Called out one night in the hope that she can identify the body of a man found in a field, Edinburgh forensic geologist Jessica Spargo – Jez – inadvertently becomes involved in the investigation of a university lecturer’s murder. The investigating officer, Tom Curtis, hands her a small glass vial and asks her to analyse its contents. She agrees to do it. The results confound everyone.
Media attention around a seemingly unconnected incident on a construction site near Edinburgh means that all work has stopped. An object discovered beneath the site confounds everyone, including the police. Employed by the firm’s owner to attempt to solve the mystery, Jez falls foul of an uncooperative site manager. Unruffled, she perseveres. Meanwhile, the murder mystery deepens. Despite her reluctance to become further involved, she has her own theories about the origin of the vial’s contents, theories the police do not accept.
To Jez’s dismay there are more deaths. As she says to Curtis, ‘I don’t do bodies. I’m a geologist, I look at rocks. If I’d wanted to look at bits of body then I would have become a surgeon or a pathologist.’
I understand this to be Whittle’s third book with these characters. As it’s a mystery/thriller, there’s no continuing storyline (which is good, because I haven’t read the first two!), but this works well as a stand-alone… though a little more backstory would be useful. I wanted to know how Jez and DCI Curtis met! I guess I’ll be downloading the other books.
Firstly, and most distractingly, there are a lot of typographical errors in the ebook version. These include everything from incorrect spellings to actual words missing, which makes the brain stutter and drastically reduces the flow. And, this is where it sucks to be an editor, I kept noting the chapter breaks – to me, they’re in the wrong places. (Mr Whittle, if you’d like me to take a look, please do get in touch!)
The incident in the construction site is very well done; including all the police and university SOP (Standard Operating Procedures). Blackie comes across as a right moody bastard and an instant suspect!
I liked the characters and interactions, though it would have been nice to have a little more depth to Jez – everything is a little current and we don’t really get to see her thinking, just her reactions. And this, I think is where it’s assumed the reader knows the backstory; there’s very little background on Jez, DCI Curtis, Cassie or even John Spargo. For this to truly work as a stand alone, a little more backstory should be included. The reader needs to know a little of the relationship.
Whittle knows his stuff – the explanations of geological research are sound, complete and easy to follow. The descriptions of Edinburgh (a city close to my heart!) are nicely done – I can almost picture the city in my mind as Jez moves around it, and I’ve been in shops just like Andy’s jewellery store; tiny, closet-width places with the most wonderful stock. Kings’ Buildings at the University, New Town, Waverley Station… all brought back my memories of a lovely city!
I think I’ll be downloading Whittle’s other works with these characters. Ground Rules is definitely an enjoyable read, recommended to lovers of procedurals, geologists, or those who like a good mystery. I raced through this in about three hours one rainy afternoon, and I’d happily read the author’s other works with these characters.
Richard Whittle has been a policeman, diesel engine tester, university student and engineering geologist. Writing as Alan Frost he was shortlisted from several hundred international competitors for the CWA (Crime Writers Association) Debut Dagger Award.
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