The greatest attraction of all three of Karen Campbell's novels is how closely they portray the working and private lives of police officers in Glasgow. There's nothing remotely glamorous about the story here, just as there isn't in real life, because as anyone working at the blunt end of law enforcement will tell you, crime is invariably dirty, seedy and repellent with none of the exotic characters or staged crime scenes common in contemporary fiction. So if you want to break away from the endless stream of trophy-taking serial-killer 'thrillers' and want to peep into the world of policing as it really is with utterly convincing and authentic characters, take a look at The Twilight Time and its sequels. It's a cut above the mainstream and a welcome escape from the detritus we are usually offered in the crime genre these days.
Despite the occasionally dark tone of the imagery, there are frequent touches of humour, often as a result of the reader actually getting to know and care for the characters for once. One of Karen Campbell's strengths is her notable ability to create individual and different personalities; in this debut novel the two leads are female but they are very different people with almost nothing in common apart from the man that one of them is married to and for whom the other has lustful desires. The primary lead is DS Anna Cameron, a thirty-something single woman with no hang-ups about a sexually predatory lifestyle that in fiction tends more often to be attached to male characters, despite the fact that she has to face the male-dominated politics of a police force that has clear (if understated) prejudices towards female officers. It's equally clear that women like Anna Cameron need a thick skin to survive, not just out on the uncompromising streets of Glasgow but also within the corridors of power at her own station and beyond. The other female lead is an ex-cop called Catherine Worth who left the force to raise a family, and her own psychological pressures of post-natal depression (coupled with her husband Jamie's reaction to it) are sensitively and sometimes uncomfortably drawn. Within all this is a story that could easily be taken from real-life events, so nothing glamourous - just a nasty violent murder of an elderly man and a series of assaults on a few prostitutes - but it only acts as a conduit for the real story that is a few weeks in the life of two women who either work for or who are married to the police force. Very much a character piece with highly effective imagery and (I believe) welcome use of local dialects within the dialogue.
This is an excellent novel, and the great news is that Karen gets better and better as she develops because the two follow-ups After the Fire
make for even more riveting reading. This lady can really tell a story - she's so under-rated and deserves a much wider audience. Recommended.