Sunday, 31 March 2013

If Snow Hadn't Fallen by S. J. Bolton

There are a dozen other books I should be reviewing before I do this one, but I can't help myself.

If Snow Hadn't Fallen (2013) (short story) (book 1.5 in the Lacey Flint series)
S. J. Bolton
Grade: A
Genre: gothic thriller horror
Source: own, eBook 
Lacey Flint series: (1) Now You See Me; (2) Dead Scared

Ever wonder what Lacey got up to between the closing of Now You See Me and the opening of Dead Scared? Now is your chance to find out …

It’s like trouble follows DC Lacey Flint’s heel like a loyal Labrador. Off-duty and on her way home, there’s a call for assistance on her radio, just a stone’s throw away from her flat. Instinct and duty prompt her to answer it, but it’s not the teenage scuffle or canoodling couple that she expected to break up and hurry along. Five masked persons surround a burning pyre in the centre of the park. A burning pyre of human flesh that’s still alive. Lacey’s appearance sends the perpetrators running, but with such extensive burns, there’s little she can do to prevent death.

Dr Aamir Chowdhury was from a devout Muslim family and an upstanding citizen. The investigation points to a group of five white, young men who had an encounter with Aamir several months ago, but they have solid, unshakeable alibis and there is no conclusive evidence on which to press charges. Lacey has a niggling feeling that they’re going down the wrong track – she just can’t figure out what’s the right one. That is, until the snow starts to fall and she sees a woman in black at the scene of the crime. With her nature being what it is, Lacey can’t help but get involved and she finds herself drawn into circumstances that go deeper than anyone had ever anticipated …

Ms Bolton is not an author to shy away from topics just because they’re controversial and I love her for this. On its surface, If Snow Hadn’t Fallen is a book dealing with racially aggravated crime (a.k.a. hate crime), but it goes beyond that and it’s refreshing to read about such a taboo subject with such brute honesty that Ms Bolton manages. Hate crime was one area that we touched upon in criminal law this year and I wish the syllabus and timetable allowed for us to cover it in more depth. It’s one subject that I’m seriously considering taking as an option next year and to read about it in its day-to-day context only served to encourage me further.

Back to the controversial storyline: to take on such a sensitive issue like this takes guts, and boy does Ms Bolton have them. It’s a thorny issue, both legally and socially and she has my respect for doing it so well. The police and Crown Prosecution Service have recently agreed on the definition of ‘hate crime’ as follows:

“Any criminal offence which is perceived by the victim or any other person, to be motivated by a hostility or prejudice based on a person’s race or perceived race; religion or perceived religion; sexual orientation or perceived sexual orientation; disability or perceived disability and any crime motivated by a hostility or prejudice against a person who is transgender or perceived to be transgender.” (1)

A bit of a mouthful, but you get the idea.

Hate crime has been a growing problem for decades but only with the high-profile murder of Stephen Lawrence and the ensuing enquiry into his death and its handling by the police has it been properly recognised as a social problem. A finding by the Macpherson Report (2) that the police were “institutionally racist” was not, to paraphrase Lacey, the Met’s finest hour. Thus, to take on this particular issue (and especially from the police perspective) is a difficult task for any writer but Ms Bolton succeeds with aplomb.

And yet, as mentioned, hate crime is only the prima facie subject at hand. What Lacey later goes on to discover is arguably even more sincere and horrifying and still it’s all treated with the compassion it deserves. That balance between depth and sensitivity is a fine one but so crucial to get right and I couldn’t have asked for more from Ms Bolton.

So, enough of my lecture and onto how much I love Lacey. When she’s not being so damn evasive and secretive (and even then), I do love her. It’s a treat to be sent back in time to see her response in the aftermath of the Ripper murders but before she was sent to Cambridge in Dead Scared. Of course, I’ve now read Like This, For Ever (review coming soon!) and so I know what’s currently happening in her life, but I do like to fill in the gaps. I felt that Lacey in ISHF was a very different Lacey to how we had seen her before. The format of short stories has a lot to do with that. A short story needs to give a reader familiar with the characters and the series sufficient sustenance while we wait for the next full-length book to be published, while at the same time, appeal and cater to the new reader. As a result, there wasn’t nearly as much reference to past events and history as the Lacey as we know her would have done, but I’ll take anything and everything I can get my desperate hands on.

There were some familiar faces and that only served to solidify my love for Ms Bolton, as if that hadn’t been certain already. Of course, there’s never enough room in a short story for them all to have as much page-time as you’d like, but it whetted the appetite and served as a reminder that although Lacey wouldn’t think herself as a person with many friends, the value that these secondary characters add to the books and Lacey herself is immense.

Of course, there’s one character that I sorely missed: the one and only DI Mark Joesbury. In writing this review, I had to remind myself that the Lacey of ISHF hasn’t met the post-Cambridge Lacey because on the topic of DI Joesbury, they are two very different people. That’s probably a bigger spoiler than anyone following the series wants to know, but I can’t help myself.

This is one short story that I will be reading again and again. I don’t usually buy short stories and I don’t usually buy eBooks, but since this is (i) S. J. Bolton and (ii) the only format that ISHF was available, there was an exception begging to be made and I’m glad I did so. In less than a year, S. J. Bolton has made her way onto my automatic-read/buy list and I don’t even do that for Nora Roberts, which is saying something. If you’re impatient for your S. J. Bolton-fix in the eleven days before Like This, For Ever is released, and you haven’t read ISHF, then read it now – you won’t regret it.

(1) Crown Prosecution Service, Hate crime and crimes against older people report 2010–2011, p.8 [Accessed from; date of last access 31 March 2013]
(2) The Stephen Lawrence Inquiry (1999) [Accessed from; date of last access 31 March 2013]

Image courtesy of Fantastic Fiction

No comments:

Post a Comment