Crime On The Fens by Joy Ellis

Crime On The Fens by Joy Ellis
Publisher: Joffe Books, London
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller
Rating: 3 stars
Reviewed by Fern


THE DETECTIVE DI Nikki Galena: A police detective with nothing left to lose, she’s seen a girl die in her arms, and her daughter will never leave the hospital again. She’s got tough on the criminals she believes did this to her. Too tough. And now she’s been given one final warning: make it work with her new sergeant, DS Joseph Easter, or she’s out.

HER PARTNER DS Joseph Easter is the handsome squeaky-clean new member of the team. But his nickname “Holy Joe” belies his former life as a soldier. He has an estranged daughter who blames him for everything that went wrong with their family.

THEIR ADVERSARY is a ruthless man who holds DI Galena responsible for his terrible disfigurement.

The town is being terrorised by gangs of violent thugs, all wearing identical hideous masks. Then a talented young female student goes missing on the marsh and Nikki and Joseph find themselves joining forces with a master criminal in their efforts to save her. They need to look behind the masks, but when they do, they find something more sinister and deadly than they ever expected . . .

DI Nikki Galena has finally pushed her vendetta against the drug pushers a few steps too far and her boss is given no choice but to issue an ultimatum – work with a new partner, squeaky clean DS Joseph Easter aka “Holy Joe” – or be removed from the police force. Nikki has lost everything, her husband, her daughter, any semblance of a life or friends. All she has left is her work and the burning passion to rid the streets of drugs. Nikki and Joe all too soon are forced to make some tough decisions – can they find a way to work together despite their polar opposite views on how to do their duty?

I found this to be a really different but interesting first book in the series. While having a new police partner pairing that have such wildly different approaches to their work isn’t really that unusual at all, I was quite pleased that it was the female partner – Nikki – that was so off the rails and overly aggressive. I thought that was a refreshing change and while Nikki’s character felt a bit too over the top for me, personally, the author kept the strength and aggression consistent throughout most of the book for Nikki.

My main issue was Nikki’s character seemed just too abrasive and unsympathetic. A strong and jaded female police inspector I can totally understand and relate to – but frequently I felt Nikki stepped over the line into being rude and antagonistic to witnesses, coworkers and others. For example, I was really surprised that when questioning a witness Nikki immediately pushed hard, alienating and upsetting the witness and even borderline bullying them when her harsh manner had the witness not wanting to share information. For more than half of the book I really struggled to even like Nikki’s character, let alone feel sympathy for her or want to cheer her on. I also felt these actions of hers were pretty unrealistic. While I could understand there’d be leeway for an inspector with a massive “closed case” number in how physical and over the line they were when it came to arresting criminals and drug dealers, I really couldn’t see the police upper management letting Nikki’s bullying and antagonism slide when it came to innocent witnesses and members of the public. That just didn’t feel realistic to me and it certainly didn’t help me feel like Nikki was a heroine in the usual sense.

I completely understand why Joe’s character was brought into the story fairly early on. While his dedication in arresting the bad guy and saving the victims were just as strong and intense as Nikki’s, his means and manner in reaching that objective was far more palatable. His character was an excellent contrast to Nikki’s and while I understood their enforced partnership finally began to build ties between them both, I really did enjoy watching Joe navigate the various hardships of dealing with a largely uncooperative partner in Nikki and settling down in the new police station and find his way.

Aside from Joe’s character, the other main saving grace of this story to me was how interesting and enjoyable I found the two main plotlines of the story. There’s a smaller plot surrounding some mysterious rubber masks being delivered around the township to egg on various youths into committing petty crimes – which I found both unique and highly creative – but also the more serious case of a murdered young lady out on the Fens. Both mysteries were gripping and interesting and while I really struggled with Nikki’s character, even that edge helped make the story as a whole feel fresh and gripping to me.

While I feel sections of this story really won’t appeal to all readers, the strength of the two plots, the conflict and clashing of Nikki’s abrasive personality and the contrast with Joe’s as the two officers forge a new partnership all added up into an interesting, intense and pretty creative story that I found well worth reading.

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