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The Dead Sit Round in a Ring    by David Lawrence order for
Dead Sit Round in a Ring
by David Lawrence
Order:  USA  Can
Penguin, 2003
Paperback, Audio
* *   Reviewed by G. Hall

British poet/scriptwriter David Lawrence has taken a solid first step into the mystery field with The Dead Sit Round in a Ring, a dark novel featuring Detective Sergeant Stella Mooney. This tough young woman is used to handling the most appalling crimes and may remind some readers of Inspector Jane Tennison from the wonderful public television Prime Suspect series a few years ago. Like Tennison, Mooney has succeeded in a man's world by supressing her feelings to the point that she is no longer in touch with them herself.

DS Mooney is haunted by a past crime involving two murdered children. They keep appearing in her dreams along with a third child who is Mooney's own recently miscarried baby. As the book unfolds, this threatens Mooney's relationship with her live-in partner George, distracting her while she tries to solve yet another gruesome murder. This one involves four victims found (as the title suggests) sitting in a ring. Three turn out to be suicides, but the fourth is lowlife Jimmy Stone who appears to be the victim of a professional hit. Among other activities, Stone runs a 'murderabilia' web site that sells items from famous crime scenes, belongings of well-known serial killers etc..

Mooney and her team find links to the Tempers, a London crime family whose activities include prostitution rings that exploit desperate young women from Bosnia and other eastern European trouble spots. The stories of Yugoslavian atrocities and the awful results for the survivors give a painful and fresh twist to this novel. The Dead Sit Round in a Ring is a darker mystery than those by other contemporary authors of British police procedurals, such as Ian Rankin or Peter Robinson. While it seems to authentically describe police operations, it sometimes seems just too real.

Lawrence sets his grim scenes well, as in this description of the time just before one victim's death: 'There's never a good time to die, but six-thirty in the morning has to be one of the worst. The sounds of things starting up, the city waking up, a new day dawning that you'll never live to see. It's not good to die with a hangover beating your brain and all your sins in place'. DS Mooney is a well-drawn, troubled and conflicted character, but there is no soft side to her. She immerses herself in work to avoid thinking about her life. Ivo Peric, the hired Serbian killer is truly scary. As Mooney says, 'What does it take to be like you? What blackness in the soul, what joy in pain?'

All in all, Lawrence is a welcome addition to the British crime scene (his second book, Nothing like the Night was just published in England). However, one would do well to avoid reading the two books in succession, and to separate them with lighter and more upbeat novels.

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