Reviewed by Mike Clarke
Lynda La Plante CBE is a prolific English author, screenwriter and actress. In 2009 she was inducted into the Crime Thriller Awards Hall of Fame.
In 2013 La Plante was awarded an Honorary Fellowship of the Forensic Science Society (FSSoc). She was the first non-scientist to be awarded this honour for the accuracy in which she portrays forensic science in her work.
Her skill in this fascinating science is no more evidenced than in Good Friday – but more of that later.
This publication is an interesting concept in literature of revisiting the early days of a well worked character whose exploits are then usually adapted into a screenplay for TV and in some instances, film.
It’s hard not to be cynical and assume this is obviously designed to re-engage the original fan base for another dose of their favourite.
Not all of these revisits are necessarily the work of the original author. Current examples of television series include Sherlock Holmes and Inspector Morse.
Last year the ABC aired Prime Suspect 1973 which was the prequel (or backstory) to Prime Suspect as it is the story of the young Jane Tennyson joining the Metropolitan Police in London.
The program was marred by some bad acting by support players but it was an introduction to the present novel which this reviewer found informative. Perhaps a search of Netflix for the program might be useful before reading this novel!
The main character in Good Friday is Jane Tennyson, a character made famous by Helen Mirren in the long running British TV series, Prime Suspect. This series debuted in 1991 and two other series followed in 1992 and 1993. The role of Detective Chief Inspector Jane Tennyson made Helen Mirren an international star and the series was sold globally.
The story is set in the early seventies, and begins with Jane Tennyson, a newly minted detective with ambitions of joining the prestigious Flying Squad. She soon learns that she has to first pay her dues by becoming a member of The Dip Squad, a lesser group of what appears to be a collection of misfit detectives trying to control the pickpockets of London.
In this section Lynda La Plante demonstrates her great talent for research and descriptive writing. After reading the chapter on the Dip Squad one has a working knowledge of the art of pickpocketing!
The book faithfully captures the relationships between family members and the background sub plots of family interactions are well written. Jane’s parents do not approve of her career choice and they make their thoughts known in no uncertain terms.
Jane finds herself in what would appear to be a career defining situation. She is on her way to court one morning passing the Covent Garden Tube Station when she witnesses a bomb blast. The blast kills several and although Jane is close to what appears to be the bomber but she cannot identify him.
She is compromised though when her photo is published in the newspapers. The bombers are believed to be the IRA. Here the novel picks up speed with Jane and her family in danger from a potential IRA attack.
Jane is transferred to the Bomb Squad where she becomes fleetingly romantically involved with the squad’s star operative, the Porsche driving Detective Sergeant Dexter. This character would appear more comfortable in a James Bond novel that he does here as he does not fit the mould of a typical English copper.
However, it’s in this section of the book that Lynda La Plante demonstrates a meticulous attention to detail in forensic matters and her admission to the august fraternity of practitioners of forensic science is clearly warranted.
She brings in a couple of teasers with the introduction of a possible IRA ‘sleeper’.
Dexter explains to Jane the definition of a sleeper and the threat they pose to Jane should she be lax in who she trusts.
‘A sleeper for the IRA is someone whose background and demeanour enables them to go unnoticed in England, so that they can better help the IRA in their bombing campaign. When they’re needed, they’re contacted. No big drinkers and they need to know when to keep their mouths shut and stay as anonymous as possible. Never assume who you come into contact with is who they say they are’ (138)
This of course allows the author to introduce a couple of likely suspects.
One is in the form of a girl who responds to an advertisement Jane has placed for a flatmate and another, a girl she met at the Police Training Centre at Hendon.
The Hendon girl proves Jane (and the reader) with several cooking recipes as Jane appears to be lacking in the culinary skills.
With the bombers undetected the scene moves to the prospect of a bomb attack at the Police Annual Dinner Dance. This held on Good Friday, hence the book title. Jane uncovers evidence to bring the bombers to justice but has trouble convincing her superiors.
Good Friday concludes with a tightly written climax which captures the atmosphere of danger that the IRA bombing campaign of the 1970’s delivered. The reader is taken back to those times which combine the fear of attack with the determination not to let the threat disrupt normal life.
One small criticism: The domesticity of Jane’s life seems a little overstated. The police characters could have been fleshed out more (with the exception of DS Dexter). The hierarchical tradition of the British police force is well stated but more background of the participants could have provided a clearer insight to their actions.
Overall, a good read and obviously Lynda La Plante will have more prequels of Jane Tennyson before she climbs the ranks to Detective Chief Inspector in Prime Suspect.
By Lynda La Plante
ISBN: 978-1 78576-330-4