The Lost Witness by Robert Ellis

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The Lost Witness by Robert Ellis

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Category: Crime
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: If the characterisation was as good as the plot this would be a superb book. As it is, you'll find it very readable but lacking in the personalities which stay in the mind. Cautiously recommended
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 340 Date: March 2009
Publisher: Macmillan
ISBN: 978-0230016439

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Despite the fact that Detective Lena Gamble came out of her last case as a hero she's found life difficult in the Los Angeles Police department in the intervening months. She's been reduced to mundane work and with little private life to speak of, things are not looking too good for her. It comes as something of a surprise when she finds that she's been assigned a murder case and she has to wonder if she's being set up.

It's a nasty case, too. The victim is young, beautiful, naked and packed up in a trash bag in several pieces. There's no identification, no witnesses and a lot of press attention because the case is so gruesome. Lena can't afford to put a foot wrong, but what can she do when she has the feeling that someone higher up in the LAPD is setting her up for a major fall?

If you've read the first Lena Gamble story, City of Fire then you'll be familiar with the background to this story. Equally, if you've not read it then I suspect that this book gives away some of the twists which made that such a good read. Ellis is strong on plots (he's produced over a thousand television commercials for political campaigns) but rather weak on characterisation. Even after I'd read the book I couldn't really say that I knew Lena Gamble – and she dominates the book – or that I felt strongly about what happened to her. The men all tended to fade into each other, with only a couple really standing out.

But the plot – now that was a different matter. I thought I had it sorted – on more than one occasion - only to have everything thrown up in the air. You get to know the name of the murderer quite early on so this isn't a police procedural in the strict sense of the phrase. There's also a sense that you might not just be looking for a murderer, but for the really evil people. I did guess part of the solution but that came from decades of experience with novels of this genre rather than a cunning mind. There are more twists than in the average corkscrew and it's all very cleverly put together. When I finished the book I went back to the beginning and reread the first chapter, just to see if there had been any cheating – and there hadn't.

There's a very high body count and quite a bit of violence. Normally I'm pretty lily-livered about such matters, but I didn't find anything gratuitous and despite the fact that characters were falling all around me I had to find out who was responsible. I hope we'll see more of Ellis' work.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

If American crime appeals to you then one of the best books we've seen recently is Pariah by Dave Zeltserman.

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