In brief: The second story featuring DCI Frank Keane tracks a murderer across two continents.
The good: Initially intriguing, with many twists
The not-so-good: High body count and the sex didn’t really fit in with the plot of the second book
Why I chose it: Asked to participate in a blog tour for Random House Australia – thank you!
Publisher: Bantam Australia
Setting: England and USA
My rating: 7 out of 10
Isn’t it funny when you read eBooks that you have no concept of how far along into the book you are? (Perhaps it’s just me). Underhand seemed to me like a very long book – don’t get me wrong, the majority of the plot was good, but there were so many twists and turns I just didn’t know when and how it would finish.
Underland is the second book featuring DCI Frank Keane and brings in several characters that appear to have been in the first book, A Dark Place to Die. I haven’t read that book, and it is a credit to Chatterton that I feel I still could, as the plot points are only briefly mentioned. I really liked that – sometimes coming to a series out of sequence, you learn so much about the previous books that it seems like you’ve already read them.
The book opens in Liverpool, where filming is beginning on a new feature film, The Tunnels. The lead actor, Ben Noone, is stellar onscreen, but off screen he’s a little strange. So much so that the writer, Dean Quinter, asks his cousin to follow Noone one night. Then things start turning strange…two dentists are found horrifically murdered in their home and their son, a runner on the film, is missing.
Meanwhile, DCI Frank Keane is trying to adjust to a work promotion. Thursday night drinks for the major incident team turn into a drunken night of passion, followed by a big shock for Frank. As the team begin investigating the murders, another of the film crew is found dead. Who is the culprit? Frank thinks it’s Noone, but there’s no convincing evidence. Will a trek to L.A. confirm Frank’s suspicions or will he end up over his head?
I really liked the way Chatterton combined a police procedural with a second half that reads more like an espionage thriller. The first half set in Liverpool is gritty and gloomy – it’s not about fun, it’s about confusion and cold-blooded killing. Frank’s night of passion with his colleague (who has a girlfriend) didn’t really fit into the rest of the plot for me (I could be missing something that was in the first book) – I wasn’t sure what it was trying to prove. Once the action moves to L.A., the mood of the narrative changes to suspicion against Frank and his friends and a sense of ‘us against them’. The ‘them’ in this case seems to be the FBI, L.A. police, military and a number of other agencies. The feeling is almost sinister, especially as Chatterton is not afraid to harm – or even kill – his characters in the name of plot. Usually I feel somewhat secure in crime novels that major players survive until the end, but Chatterton is an expert at the blind twist. On several occasions, I kept thinking, ‘just five more minutes’ to see what happened next!
Frank Keane, for all his faults, is quite a likeable character. He fits into the policeman stereotype – divorced, moody, dislikes paperwork and media, but he’s sharp and isn’t afraid to trust an instinct he can’t name. He’s not superhuman or some sort of Robocop (he baulks at jumping a small chasm), he’s real. As for Ben Noone – he’s a slippery character. His background and motives are complex, but Chatterton explains them well until you can (almost) understand them. Noone’s journey is almost as addictive as Frank’s as the reader tries to figure out why. The finale is intriguing for its lack of plaudits for Frank, but I wonder if this is shaping up to be a plot thread in the third book…
Combining a cold-blooded killer with action across two continents, Underland will keep you on your toes!