The Reach of Shadows - Tony J. Forder
‘Three days on, are you any closer to finding out who murdered our daughter?’ Tony Coleman asked. His hands were resting palm down on the bed, fingers splayed as if he were about the leap into action at any moment. The shock was palpable in every line of his face, and the man’s glazed eyes told Bliss that so much grief was yet to sink in. It was looking at faces just like this throughout his career that caused Bliss to take his cases personally. He never forgot a murder victim , but it was the expression on the faces of those they left behind that haunted him most of all.


Some time back, I noticed a strong link between how a novelist depicted the grieving of a murder victim's family (particularly if it features the family identifying the body) and my overall reaction to the book. It's the little things that are the most telling, right? Now, by the time I got to this father, I was already pretty sure that Forder knew what he was doing with this book, but it was nice to get the confirmation.


There is so much going on in this novel that it's hard to know where to start. The book opens with a bang, with DI Bliss finding someone prowling around his house in the middle of the night. He pursues them on foot, in totally inappropriate clothing for such a thing. His pursuit is only called off when he's struck by a car while crossing the road. When DS Chandler, his partner, comes to the hospital to bring him home, she tells him they have a stop to make -- at a murder scene. He's been ordered there despite his need to recover from the injuries sustained by being hit by a car.


Bliss is informed later that the reason he's being pressured to work on this while recuperating is that the victim, Jade Coleman, had recently filed a complaint with the police about a stalker -- and two of Bliss' detectives had interviewed her. Nothing came of this complaint, and now she's dead. So did they miss something? What should these two have done better/differently?


So Bliss has quite a few plates spinning right away -- recovering from a concussion, broken ribs, etc.; solve a murder; ensure that the stalker investigation isn't going to blow up in anyone's face; when a few more plates are introduced: The Independent Office for Police Conduct (a replacement for The Complaints department) is looking into some of his cases -- recent, and less-so. In fact, their investigation goes back over a decade, to when Bliss had been investigated for -- and exonerated from -- his wife's murder. Bliss' superiors are supporting him, and encouraging him to defend himself however is necessary -- but he wants to find Coleman's murderer, too. Bliss does keep the more senior members of his team in the loop about the IOPC investigation and they all want to help him as they can. So we have a whole lot of detectives trying to do a whole lot in a very short time.


Now, I haven't read the previous three DI Bliss novels, and I don't know what kind of overlap those books have with the particulars of the IOPC investigation -- I think if I had more of a history with Bliss I could've cared more about this story, I could've appreciated the dangers he was in. Now, you never want the protagonist of the book you're reading to be framed for a crime (especially if you get the sense that they're one of the good guys in the world), but I just don't have the investment to really care. So my primary concern was the Coleman case (and it was ultimately Bliss' too).


The ways in which I wanted to be invested, but couldn't, in the storylines about Bliss' past were matched in the ways I was invested in Coleman's case -- there were some very believable red herrings dealt with, and Forder faked me out more than once. I'm not saying I got fooled by the same red herrings that distracted the detectives, but that Forder makes the reader thing he's doing X with the plot while he's setting up a Y. I was pretty impressed with the way he kept the characters and readers on their toes with the various stages and phases of the Coleman investigation while dealing with the crisis prompted by the Bliss investigations.


There is a great supporting cast around Chandler and Bliss -- all of whom I wanted more time with -- either above or below them in rank. I don't know that if the book wasn't quite as busy as this one if we'd have got to enjoy more of them, or if this is typical of the series. I can't think of one of them I wouldn't mind a few more pages with. Bliss is a very interesting character -- he's a good man and an old-school cop who's doing his best to adapt and evolve into the modern concept of a detective. Chandler is a loyal friend, partner and sidekick -- who could be more, who could (and maybe should) be a DI herself, but it perfectly content where she is. Watching them navigate the challenges of leadership and the pressures from above as tools to solve Coleman's murder as well as being obstacles to efficient detecting is a lot of fun.


This really is a well-written, well-conceived and well-executed book -- I think most of my lack of engagement (not that I wasn't pretty engaged, I just think the book expected/deserved more on my end) comes from the fact that I was getting to know Bliss, Chandler and the rest. As I've said -- the novel was just built on a lot of history, and not having any familiarity with that history, I couldn't care as much as I should have. If I had the foundation, I'd have liked it more -- and I already liked it a good deal. I do think this is a fine jumping on point -- as long as you go into it knowing that you're coming late to the party and won't care about missing some things. Because of the way that this book seems to have wrapped up that stage of Bliss' life, I'm not sure I want to go back and read the first three books (but I might), but I do want to see what happens in Bliss' future -- I haven't talked much about Chandler, but I'm very interested in what lies in her future.


So, to wrap up, this is a strong novel that I couldn't appreciate as much as I wanted to -- but I really liked and it made me want to read more about these characters. My guess is you'll react the same way (unless you've had the good sense to try these novels before hand -- you are in for a treat).


My thanks to Bloodhound Books for the invitation to participate in this tour and the materials (including the book) they provided.


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