This is the sixth in the Geraldine Steel series. Geraldine has now moved to a new job as an inspector in the Homicide Assessment Team with the (London) Metropolitan Police, and now reports to Chief Inspector Reg Milton, who she hasn’t yet got the measure of. This book is set firmly in the world of theatre and acting, the characters including: a successful, glamorous but petulant actress; a driven, wannabe actress; students at drama school; a set designer. The ‘Fatal Acts’ all concern people associated with casting director, Piers Trevelyan – a stereotypical casting director who bonks everything female, although many of his bits of skirt seek out him and his casting couch as a means of advancing their acting careers. The three murders are gruesome, and enigmatic, because the murderer seems to be able disappear from the scene, and CCTV cameras, as if by magic. Everything seems to point very directly to Piers as the perpetrator – too directly, Geraldine thinks. ‘Don’t be blinded by this man’s attractions’, said Reg Milton. (If someone had said that to me, I would have committed a ‘fatal act’ on him, although Reg is not the main mcp here.)
Reg Milton is an interesting, but not altogether likeable, character. (He) had a tendency to regard questions as a challenge to his authority.’ ‘He was more comfortable issuing orders.’ ‘Yet he had a ‘reputation for running successful investigations.’ Towards the end of the book, Reg gives Geraldine a – richly deserved – roasting for putting a colleague (Sam Haley) in danger. (Ruth Rendell’s) Reg Wexford and Mike Burden and (Alexander McCall Smith’s) Mma Ramotswe with Mma Makutsi have cosy relationships. (H E Birley’s) Wycliffe always worked within a cohesive team. Inspector Kate Miskin fawns over (P D James’s) Adam Dalgliesh – rather irritatingly so, imo. Geraldine’s relationship with Reg Milton will no doubt smoulder for books to come.
Geraldine is a Janey-no-mates, with nothing to do and nobody to see when she has time off, but her friendship with (female) Sergeant Sam Haley showed her friendly side, even though, as the Inspector, she assumes the upper hand. The reader also gets to renew acquaintance with Geraldine’s former Sergeant, Ian Peterson; I understand from Leigh’s website that she is currently working on a spin-off series about Ian. Maybe that is why Geraldine had to move from Kent to London? More creepy was Geraldine’s relationship with Nick Williams: a sexist (‘Why don’t I go in? Surely this is a job for a man. You said yourself he could be dangerous-‘), an alleged wife-beater and known for unfunny anti-women jokes – Leigh hardly sells Nick to us, even though he is the one who saves the investigation, and Geraldine, and Sam. This relationship will also, no doubt, develop in future books. Geraldine is her name – Steel – but Leigh lends her vulnerability by occasionally letting her get things wrong.
Crime fiction requires a thorough technical knowledge of how the police work, their procedures and how they interact with each other. It also requires a tighter plot structure than other genres, although the plot is always the same one, more or less. Without this technical knowledge, it is impossible to write plausible crime fiction – although some writers have tried. (Wince, wince.) I myself have never dared to write crime fiction, although it is probably my favourite genre to read. I sometimes wonder if there is a gap in the market for a crime series featuring a cyber forensics expert, but, although I teach computing, I’m deterred by the amount of police research I would have to do.
So, Dear Reader, do I recommend ‘Fatal Act’? Yes, of course. If you like crime writing, you’ll enjoy ‘Fatal Act’.
(Image reproduced with permission of the author of the book.)