Detective Inspector David Vogel, of Avon and Somerset Police, cuts a rather different dash from many of his fellow fictional DIs. He is a tall, bespectacled and slightly shambling figure, teetotal and resolutely vegetarian. His only leisure pursuit is assembling crossword puzzles. Formerly with the Metropolitan Police in London, he, wife Mary and daughter Rosamund had moved from their Pimlico flat out to the suburbs of Bristol to an unassuming bungalow which had an unusual attraction – its own swimming pool. Rosamund has cerebral palsy, and we are told:
“She was a happy and intelligent girl, trapped within a body that consistently failed her, except when she was in water………the water gave her freedom. In water, her body was no longer an encumbrance.”
When the battered body of teenager Melanie Cooke is found amid the garbage bins in a seedy Bristol alleyway, it is obvious that she has been murdered. Only fourteen, she is dressed in the kind of clothes which would be considered provocative on a woman twice her age. Vogel goes to make the dreaded ‘death call’, but he only has to appear on the doorstep of the girl’s home for her mother and father to sense the worst. Like many rebellious teenagers before her, Melanie has told her parents that she is going round to a mate’s house to do some homework. When she failed to come home, their first ‘phone call confirmed Melanie’s lie, and thereafter, the long dark hours of the night are spent in increasing anxiety and then terror, as they realise that something awful has happened.
The book actually starts with a prologue which at first glance appears to be nothing to do with Melanie’s death. It is only later – much later – that we learn its true significance. Bonner (right) is determined not to give us a straightforward narrative. The progress of Vogel’s attempts to find Melanie’s killer are sandwiched between accounts from three different men, each of whom is living a life where all is not as it seems.
Saul is socially inept and has reached early middle age without achieving his ambition to become a caring husband and father. His first attempt at marriage had been a disaster, and subsequent efforts to find a life partner have been impeded by his inner sense that his mind harbours demons over which he has little or no control should they choose to wake within him. He settles for internet dating, and heads up his CV as follows:
“My name is Saul and I am a 33 year-old supply teacher. I live in a village near Swindon and I would like to meet a young woman of around my age whose intentions are as serious as mine….. my interests are simple and quiet. I like to read and go to the cinema. If you are out there, please get in touch. I need you.”
Leo is a very different kind of fellow. He spends his leisure time cruising gay bars and clubs in London. He clearly has some kind of day job where ‘coming out’ is not an option. He cultivates the blokeish image when at work, but when he goes to London he adopts a different persona, but one with which he is not entirely at ease.
“I didn’t have the slightest desire to be gay. I didn’t even like the word. I’ve never liked euphemisms and that’s surely what ‘gay’ is. When you called yourself a homosexual it didn’t sound quite so modern and attractive. And what about queer? Is that what I was, queer?
Leo’s misgivings are put to one side, however, when he goes on the prowl. Just as he puts on the skinny Levis, gels his hair, squeezes into a black T shirt that reveals his six-pack and insouciantly slings his studded leather jacket over his shoulder, Leo adopts a different mental mindset from his ‘one of the lads’ image.
While Bonner might coax a sliver of sympathy from us as we read of the personal lives of Saul and Leo, when Al introduces himself it is abundantly clear from the start that he is a wrong ‘un.
“They get what they deserve, these young girls in their skimpy skirts and the little shorts they call hot pants. They’re hot all right. Everything about them is hot. Burning hot.”
Al cruises around the streets of Bristol, usually in a stolen van, ogling schoolgirls, and occasionally trying to bring his sordid fantasies to reality, but without success. Until he discovers a teen dating site on the internet, and he is amazed at the ease with which he can construct a fake profile and attract the attention of a teenage girl whose hormones are racing in the opposite direction to the concerns and limitations her parents seek to impose.
Deadly Dance works very effectively as a police procedural. Vogel is an interesting character, very much left field of his fictional contemporaries, and I anticipate that he will have a long and successful career between the covers of British crime novels. Bonner’s solution to the apparent dislocation between Vogel’s investigation and the lives of Saul, Leo and Al is audacious. To reveal any more would be to give the game away, and no-one will thank me for that. Does it work? I think it does, but you must be the judge. Deadly Dance will be published by Severn House next month, August 2017.