Review: The Flats by Kate Birdsall

Thank you to NetGalley for the ARC.

The Flats (A Liz Boyle Mystery) by Kate Birdsall

Opening sentence: “‘Are you ready to talk about the shooting?’ Dr. Shue gazes at me from behind her chic rimless glasses and rebalances her notepad on her lap.”

Detective Liz Boyle and her (professional) partner Tom Goran are investigating a tragic case – the murder of a 5-year old boy, Kevin Whittle. The harrowing subject matter adds to the tension in this read, and as a detective novel, this one takes a literal, linear approach to its narrative. Like a fly on the wall, we see the clues reveal themselves as Liz does. This is actually the first detective/crime book I’ve read in a while that only has one narrator, which sometimes means the pace is a little slow, but Birdsall throws enough regular twists into the plot to keep things interesting.

When a book is part of a character led series, the said character needs to be good and I have to say, I did warm to Liz. She ticks a lot of the classic detective boxes, she explains: ‘Shue (Liz’s therapist) made me identify my tragic flaw: I’m both impulsive and an overthinker. Those things don’t match up very well.’

Actually, while reading this, my mind kept flitting back to another detective book I’d read earlier this year, The Snowman by Jo Nesbo. Liz Boyle had shades of Nesbo’s detective, Harry Hole: a troubled past, an inability to maintain relationships and an aversion to playing by the rules. There are also a lot of music references in this book (due to Liz having an interest and playing the guitar) but this is a something that also cropped up in The Snowman. And after all, Hole is a popular, enduring character so the similarities can only bode well for Boyle. Although a point of difference is that Liz is a lesbian, and it’s refreshing to have a gay lead character in a detective novel.

As Liz works the case, she constantly has to report into Fishner, her senior officer on the force. Fishner does a good job of reigning Liz in: ‘You’re turning into some kind of raging, rogue detective. You know that shit doesn’t fly with me, Liz.’ I also like how she provides (along with Liz) a strong female character in the traditionally male dominated police-world, to give a feminist reading to this book.

Kate Birdsall also seems to have been inspired by Scandinavian detective books in another way – the EXCESSIVE coffee references. The only other book I’ve read that could compete with the amount of them was Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, which is why I assumed it was a Scandinavian thing. There was just an insane amount of references to characters drinking, getting or thinking about coffee. By half way through the book, it felt like coffee was mentioned on every other page, to the point where it became a little distracting. Although, Fishner does eventually call Liz out on all the bloody coffee drinking: ‘I (Liz) spot a Starbucks. ‘Do you want coffee?’ I ask. ‘You and Goran both drink too much coffee.’ If they’d dedicated as much time to tracking down new leads as they did to drinking coffee, then this case could have been solved in a fraction of the time…

Anyway, back to the story. The action really ramped up in the second half, Liz is personally drawn into the case and there is an attempt at a bit of psychological play from the killer when Liz starts receiving intriguing Plato-inspired messages. However, I feel this plotline could have been developed more, or introduced earlier, as the way it was presented felt flimsy and rushed and didn’t add a great amount to the story.

Overall, the plot developments are very literally explained, often recapped and perhaps tied up a little too neatly and easily at the end; Liz didn’t have to work as hard as I would have expected to prove her top-rate detective reputation. Basically, she’s no Poirot when it comes to deduction skills, BUT she is a likeable character and this was an entertaining read. Now, I’m off to make a coffee.

Rating: 3.5/5

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