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An engrossing crime thriller
on 14 August 2013
I thoroughly enjoyed this pacey, well-plotted crime thriller. It is the third in Hudson's series "Degrees of Separation" and features the magnificently feisty newspaper reporter Angela Tate, who appeared in "The Loyal Servant", the first in the series. Be assured, though, that this novel works well as a stand-alone.
This thriller is set on and around a deprived council estate in south London. Trisha Collins' young daughter Casey goes missing and, as days pass, police, media and society at large automatically blame the apparently feckless single mother for her disappearance. Only Tate believes in her innocence - after all, she supported Trisha 33 years ago when Trisha led her to the body of one of the two young girls who had been abducted from nearby estates. The other girl was never found.
The storyline moves deftly back and forth between 1979 and the present day, with each episode revealing more and disturbing similarities to Casey's disappearance. Tate begins to wonder whether the wrong man had been punished for the 1979 murder. Was Casey's apparent abduction in revenge for a terrible miscarriage of justice?
Hudson has created some strong characters. The stand-out is Tate, but Trisha and several of the police officers involved in the enquiry are also very well-drawn, thanks to fluent and naturalistic dialogue and just enough back story. One of the most vivid is DI Natasha McKittrick, newly transferred to the Met. She appears to be the epitome of a dedicated and professional detective, but she hides a shocking addiction to sleeping tablets, which leads to reckless behaviour. Although not a police procedural as such, I particularly liked the depiction of the three detective constables in McKittrick's team. There is realistic banter and good description of the exhausting and exhaustive routine of a major investigation.
Hudson writes fluently and with no wasted words. She scatters quite a few (plausible) red herrings along the way and builds the tension inexorably to the apparent denouement. However, I was quite unprepared for the further, shocking revelation at the very end.
This story is a cut above many thrillers as it challenges us to question the sort of easy assumptions we make based on appearance and place in society. Has Trisha been wrongly vilified? What demons drive DI McKittrick to self-destructive behaviour? "The Third Estate" is a thoroughly absorbing read, and left me wanting to know more about the personal, "off-stage" lives of many of the characters, especially DI McKittrick (who deserves to be the lead character in a future book) and young DC Cath Murray, who reveals early on, in relaxed banter with a colleague, that she is gay. There is no further reference to this or, indeed, anything at all about her off-duty life. I do hope she will find her way back into the pages of another Hudson novel. Like Tate and McKittrick, there is surely much more to tell. I certainly look forward to further books by Eva Hudson.