From the moment LJ Ross’s marvellous series about aristocratic copper DCI Ryan and his close-knit team appeared, I’ve been a huge fan. The plots are solid, the countryside and other settings beautifully drawn and the characters – well, they’re what really make this series sing. Bamburgh, no. 19 in what’s now a hugely successful series for Ross, is yet another good addition to the ongoing story of Ryan, his wife, Anna, his investigative team: Frank and his wife, Denise, Melanie and Jack… or, it would be, except I have one small gripe.
Don’t get me wrong – the writing is still good; the characters interact with each other in familiar and heart-warming ways, making the bonds they’ve developed over the years and many cases rock solid… or are they? When the book opens we already know from the last one that the killer of Melanie’s sister, Gemma, years ago, has left his DNA on a victim from the previous book – a Thai woman who survived brutal injuries and captivity. Melanie is driven to identify this killer and bring him to justice and while the professional in her demands this occur, it’s far more personal reasons that provide her motivation and give her cause to be deceptive. Nothing wrong with all that – it’s in keeping with her character and the way in which her sister’s murder has not only torn her family apart, and haunted her for years, but also set her on her current career path.
Concomitant with the hunt for Gemma’s killer (who is suspected to have left behind a string of victims over the years), is the investigation into the suspicious death of a wealthy and popular old woman who owns a great deal of property and has left it to one of her loyal workers. Again, all good.
What bothered me about this book (and I really loathe being critical because it’s so readable) is the fact it’s the third book in this fine series to use almost identical plot and character development to drive the story. Seriously. The ideas – the structure, the character, the psychopathy of the villain, the ability to fool peers and family for decades, everything, have been used not once, but twice before. In fact, when a new character was introduced, I had the fleeting thought, ‘oh, please don’t make this person behave like…’ Well, Ross did. I even eye-rolled when it became evident the storyline was the same. I mean, how many times can a small police station tolerate this kind of thing? Even one of the characters makes a joke about it towards the end. Not sure that lets Ross off the hook. It’s just as well the characters are so damn loveable and, after 18 books, we’re invested in them, and the overall story so gripping you keep reading. But I confess to feeling disappointed that, yet again, this particular plot device and type of character was deployed.
I think it’s well and truly time to retire it – but not, please, Ryan and co. They still have work to do and cases to solve! And I’ll look forward to reading their next adventure.