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Customer Review

on 4 August 2005
Kerr's futuristic police officer and police state may have seemed a bold vision of social change in the early 1990's when he was writing this novel, but there are aspects of it which have become chillingly realistic in recent years.
Kerr sets his work in the second decade of the 21st century. It is a Britain which has definitely gone hard on crime and hard on the causes of crime, with police routinely armed, long-term prisoners subjected to suspended, but conscious animation in a chemical induced coma, and the Lombroso project mapping the interior configuration of the human brain (not the bumps on the skull) to predict who is most likely to commit violent crime and therefore be in a position to offer pre-emptive treatment and surveillance.
Jake is a Chief Inspector, educated, urbane, feminist, and concerned with the murder of women. She is, however, diverted to the task of catching the man who seems to be serially killing those who have been identified as positive risks by Lombroso, a man who seems to have a sophisticated, if ironic, appreciation of philosophy ... and a very practical knowledge of computers.
What follows is a cerebral thriller in which the dissection of philosophical paradigms and the meaning of meaning within the mind of the killer become significant threads in the denouement of the novel. At times well-paced and gripping, at others somewhat overburdened by its philosophical nuances and allusions (not least in terms of occasional blocks of exposition which slow the flow), this remains a highly entertaining work ... though hardly light reading.
Kerr's vision of the future is a courageous one, one which transforms the conventional image of liberal Britain into one of a nation fixated with crime and determined to treat 'criminal' as pariahs, excusing virtually any level of state violence and intrusion. It is, as I alluded above, becoming disturbingly too close for comfort - but then, I spent a long time as a Probation Officer and there are others who might regard Kerr's vision as a blueprint for the promised land.
Kerr's concept of the feminist officer is not of an isolated individual in a male world - a theme which is regularly overdone (and not without reason) in crime fiction. Rather Kerr takes a step into a feminist criminology, which is generating variable analyses of and assessment of males and females and the differential nature of crimes committed by either or against either. That is an interesting and sophisticated area of enquiry - warranting greater statistical, political, and philosophical investigation.
However, having created this feminist 'gynocop', Kerr does fall into something of a stereotypical trap - she's big, she's beautiful, she's bright, she can handle herself in a fight, but she's single and has a very confused perspective on her own sexuality. Poor girl, too busy with her career to be able to handle a man and a family? It begins to look like a conventional way of giving a woman flaws - hit her below the belt and imply the only thing she worries about each month is her next promotion.
A complex, at times highly complex novel, and one which has its flaws - the ending is not particularly satisfying, the police are just a tad too stereotypical in places, and there are a couple of aspects of the super-killer's personality and behaviour which don't quite seem to gel. But, overall, an entertaining page-turner which is well worth the effort, and which does, for once, pose real philosophical questions about the nature of policing and criminology.
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