A pacy read that winds a couple of complex strands into a coherent story, the murder investigation is intriguing and, at times, surprising. This is a tale for our times, a reflection on the rise of homelessness that tackles the lack of empathy for people who have fallen on hard times. After the body of the ‘tramp’ is discovered it’s a while before he can be identified. The postman who found the rough sleeper in a doorway shouted at him to move, then he kicked the man when he didn’t respond, it’s a callous and careless act that shows a lack of respect, begging the question who really cares? Fortunately Sergeant Geraldine Steel does.

The hooded figure thinks this is a perfect night to commit murder. This is no random decision, it took months to plan, to find the right victim, to establish his habits and find out where he sleeps – a shop doorway on Coney Street. It’s still warm at night in York in September but soon the weather will turn, the rough sleepers will find shelter, so it has to be now. The homeless man stirs as the noose tightens around his neck but he’s in no condition to fight back. In no time the killer is walking away from the body of his victim.

Ann knows David is not a bad husband but she doesn’t love him. He’s twenty years older than she is, Ann got pregnant at seventeen, her parents were relieved when they decided to get married, but she was never in love. Their daughter Aimee is fifteen, David is worried that Ann will leave him when Aimee flies the coup. Ann is already talking about getting a job, he isn’t keen on her becoming independent. One night in a pub Ann met Mark, a music teacher, a younger man, they began an affair, he pays her attention, he listens, David never did, and, honestly, the sex is great.

“Cocooned in the warmth of his embrace she realised he [Mark] was right. Never before had she felt so overwhelming a rush of love for another adult. Intense infatuation, passion, she did not understand what she was feeling; she only knew that it was wonderful.”

Sergeant Geraldine Steel was glad her friend Adrianne was back from holiday in Greece, Adrianne is someone she can talk to. Geraldine feels a bit in limbo with her boss DI Ian Peterson at the moment, she’s unsure about their friendship/relationship and where it’s all going. Attention turns to a new case when a postman reports a dead body on his round. Ian and Geraldine arrive at the crime scene at the same time, the SOCO says that the tramp was strangled, so it’s murder but there’s nothing to identify the man. When there’s no progress after the first week the DCI has a go at the team, they redouble their efforts to find out who he is. As they establish he spent time at the Fishergate Resettlement Centre a man comes forward confessing to the killing. Things are not over, though, not by any means.

Mark is getting a bit fed up with Ann’s demands on his life, even though she only turns up once a week, it’s the hints about the future that worry him most, she won’t leave her husband while their daughter is in school but after that? A man knocks on Mark’s door one night, telling him something is wrong with his car, when Mark investigates a blow to the head knocks him out. He wakes up in a windowless room, tied up and gagged, he hears a man say; “Good. He’s still alive.” The voice tells him he will get no food or water and leaves him in the dark…

This police procedural deals subtlety with the contemporary themes of homelessness and mental health, Deathly Affair has a lot of heart. Again a solid addition to a long running series that meets the needs of the British police procedural fan perfectly.

Paul Burke

Deathly Affair by Leigh Russell
No Exit Press 9780857303011 pbk Dec 2019