Once again I feel like I’m late to the party, with this being the first book I’ve read by Quintin Jardine. There’s an extensive list of previous works inside the cover and quite honestly I’d not heard of him before! After posting on the ThrillerSeekers Instagram that I was reading A Brush with Death, I had a comment from a member of the Bookstagram community saying that the Bob Skinner Mysteries are great and I should start at the beginning. After finishing this book, I wholeheartedly agree. There are brilliant characters and I now want to follow them from the start. “Skinner’s Rules” is now on my TBR list…
The first thing that struck me about this book was the relationship between DI Lottie Mann and DS Dan Provan. There is this immediately apparent brotherly/sisterly love which is endearing whilst remaining professional even though they both seem to have deeper emotions they avoid to admit. This fierce protection and close-knit community feeling extends to their family; both at work and home. There is this long chain of history throughout which explains the relationships between the different organisational forces involved; it’s obvious that for this high profile case lots of sectors have their part to play. I think Quintin formulated a perfect blend of domestic, international and espionage policing in this book. Once you’ve got your head around the links between characters it all comes together with many exciting twists, but not in a “hollywood spy” and overly dramatic sense.
Respect is hugely key here. Not just in the form of police force hierarchy, but the clear past experience and teamwork required to pick apart the sequence of events. The ‘threat’ of Bob overruling Mann and Provan is indistinct and although questions are raised about his technical title, his consulting capacity seems to be widely welcomed. I think it captured the familiarity of when a former commanding officer reappears on your case, you’d naturally slip under their command again, like if you meet a teacher later in life, you automatically resort to calling them Sir/Miss. There’s a lack of conflict and in-fighting within the officers, which was fresh to read, as there’s usually a defiant character who rebuts authority at every turn and it can get wearing and induce many an eye-roll.
The original crime itself is interesting, I will admit that I did guess the method of death but the circumstances in the reveal at the end were a huge twist I did not see coming! I liked the misdirections because it showed insight into a real investigation and how complicated it can all get but also highlighted the simplicity of some situations. I liked the even pace as it showed actual research into procedure and that there are no priority cases and you can’t skip lines regardless of how good you are at your job. This also helped to build the tension within the professional and personal lives of the main characters. At first I thought I was a little underwhelmed with the ending, but on reflection it felt right because there was no malice, as with poisonings in general, but it suited the tone of the book and how the victim was consistently perceived as a ‘gentle giant’ which helps to inflict empathy onto the reader at multiple points.
Adding in comprehension of the legal systems was a welcome undercurrent throughout, I genuinely enjoyed learning about the procedures and requirements – once again adding this perception of realism to the plot. I found it refreshing that while Bob Skinner’s involvement seemed questionable at time, there was never once a mention of “owing favours” to other officers to get what is needed. It’s a bugbear of mine when characters with a substantial history with colleagues use “you owe me” for a thing that happened long ago and thus starts a tennis match of them batting goodwill forward and back.
A common love of the force shines through from all the characters and I like the genuine feel that they are happy to be involved whatever their capacity. The blurb told me that Bob Skinner was a retired officer so naturally you think he might have a personal connection to the victim, or the DI isn’t up to the case, but it’s none of that, it’s just his adoration for policing that makes his employer keep him in active service. I hope there are real Bob Skinners out there. He seems almost like a modern-day Scottish James Bond; I wonder if that was Quintin’s intention? The Scottish colloquialisms interjected added harshness or softness where required, not to mention the gentle humour and I very much enjoyed their presence. All in all, I would recommend “A Brush with Death” as it works as a standalone mystery thriller, but I will be sourcing a copy of “Skinner’s Rules” and I suggest you do the same. There’s clearly more to Skinner, Bob Skinner than what I’ve read in this book, and I am left feeling intrigued… I wonder if likes his martini shaken or stirred? – GJ