***A Tapping at My Door

The Raven, MWA, Poe

Page by Ian Burt (photo: c2.staticflickr.com)

By David Jackson, narrated by Jonathan Keeble – The early chapters of this police procedural are tremendously intriguing. A woman copper in Liverpool is murdered in her back garden, with a dead raven splayed over her face. Only when the crime scene investigators remove the bird do they learn her eyes have been gouged—pecked?—out. And that the raven has a note attached to its leg saying ‘nevermore.’

Even for people who are not fans of Edgar Allen Poe, that’s spooky. And, it’s a puzzle the police must struggle to work out. Not too long afterward, another police officer is found murdered in his home, again with a dead bird nearby, carrying a new message.

While these crimes are bizarre, at least there’s something to work with. Both murdered officers were implicated in the death in custody of a mentally challenged youth a few years earlier. An investigation cleared the two officers of wrongdoing, but the family and a large segment of the public still blame them for this death. Accordingly, the family is questioned, with all the renewed mutual hostility one might anticipate.

When two more police are killed who seem to have no connection to the earlier tragedy, what are the investigators to think? Are these new deaths merely a diversion? Jackson does a good job portraying the fractured relationships between the community and the coppers, writ small in this family tragedy, and writ large. He presents the action through alternating perspectives, mostly those of DS Nathan Cody and the unknown murderer, whose motives ultimately—well, you can pass judgment on that.

Cody is the principal investigator of the crimes, and to his surprise he’s teamed up with a new murder unit detective, Megan Webley. Unbeknownst to the powers that be, Cody and Webley were once an item, engaged to be married even, until his love of the job put a wedge between them. They dance around each other, not wanting to bring up the past and wanting to get on with their current assignment. There’s a cop-killer out there, after all.

But Cody become unhinged in several run-of-the-mill situations and Webley is starting to doubt his mental stability. His strange outbursts and reckless self-endangerment hearken back to an experience a year earlier in which he was held and tortured by a mysterious group of kidnappers.

About the time of the lengthy flashback in which Cody relives this hostage situation for the sympathetic Webley—an experience he has refused to seek any counseling for—I began to lose interest. The gruesome nature of the torture seemed intended to titillate, not interest me in Cody as a character. From there on out, the plot followed the well-trodden path of escalating craziness and bad decisions, woman-of-interest in danger, and drawn-out final resolution, with a particularly ham-handed, flashinglightsallaround ‘sequel!!’ signaled at the end.

Since this was an audiobook, the narration inevitably affected my reaction. In some passages Jonathan Keeble was terrific, but in others, it was as if he were narrating a silent film (you can listen to a bit through the Amazon link below). They were jarringly melodramatic. In other words, a mixed bag.