The policemen most of us get to know are pretty uninspiring. Personally, I've come across a few. I've been pick-pocketed in Prague, car-burgled in Barcelona, house-vandalised in Hounslow and petty-thieved from in Paris. The police experience is everywhere the same; a bored guardian of the law asks you some questions, fills in a form, wearily pushes it to you to sign, and then assures you that nothing will ever be done about it. To make an interesting and engrossing novel out of the mundane life of such a lowly law officer would seem a gargantuan task, but Simon Bever has managed it in Eye of the Needle.
It helps that the hero, Romeo, is a pretty unusual London bobby. There aren't too many very tall, Coptic Christian Egyptians in the Met. Also, while he suffers from the frustration of taking on tasks which come to nothing, it seems to get to him riled enough from time to time to undertake a little violent retribution on his own. And, finally, he seems to generate an interesting rapport with the victims and witnesses he runs into: they fall over themselves to impart confidences to him. As he points out, he's not an investigative policeman, but as a result of what he sees and what's he's told, he stumbles towards the solution of a pretty serious and sickening crime wave.
This is a novel that belts along at a fair pace, dropping some nice tasty morsels as it goes. There are some beautifully drawn characters among the victims and witnesses, some wry and mouth-curling asides at the state of the police-public interface, snips of erudition on the ancient history of Egypt, a useful guide to tourist London, and hints of the supernatural hovering around in the background. Something for everyone, really!
The whole book is built on a neat and excellently crafted plot. It goes off tantalisingly in all directions but at the end it all comes back together in a really clever and complete resolution. So if you hate those inconclusive novels where have the plot points are left in the air, this book is for you.
There's little in the book not to like. The author flits between first and third person narration, which is a bit disconcerting at first, but you get used to it, and the technique comes into its own as we rush towards a tense and suspenseful denouement.
So Eye of the Needle is, quite simply, a good read. Not pedantic, but a comment on life all the same. Not really a detective story, but the crimes get solved all the same. Not exactly a thriller, but plenty of suspense. A nice journey through London and its surrounding areas with a short excursion to Egypt thrown in. In total, a trip well worth the fare.