Thursday, December 16, 2021

BOOK REVIEW: The Back Road (DCI Tom Douglas, #2) by Rachel Abbott

The Back Road is the second book by Rachel Abbott that I have read, after Only The Innocent. These are the first two books in the long-running series of police procedural, psychological thrillers starring DCI Tom Douglas. The series is up to 10 books so far and generally each entry has an average rating above 4.0 on Goodreads with 10,000+ ratings, which is quite rare (and impressive) territory for a series of genre books.

In The Back Road Tom Douglas has left his position at the Met in London and is living in a small suburb called Little Melham when word comes of a young girl who was knocked over by a car and left for dead in the middle of the night. The entire village is shocked when more information comes out that Abbie  had been abducted via online messaging prior to the automobile incident on the back road, which is a short cut that basically only locals know about. Is the culprit someone they know?

The book is primarily told from the perspective of Ellie Saunders, a married mother of two young children who had been driving on the back road to see her lover the night in question and who happens to be Tom Douglas' neighbor. Her husband is a school teacher who knew Abbie and her sister, who was visiting at the time knows something is going on with her sister's marriage but it distracted by her increasing attraction to Tom. Ellie works as a nurse and is involved in Abbie's care and tries to comfort Abbie's concerned (adoptive)  parents.

I don't know if two data points makes a trend but in the two books I have read featuring DCI Tom Douglas female characters have been at the center of the mystery, often prime suspects or at the very least persons of interest with either motive, opportunity or means to commit the crime(s) in question. Also, the mental and emotional states of the women in the books have been complex and mostly hidden from Tom but presented in first person to the reader. In Only The Innocent, more time was spent on the investigation procedures because Tom was on the job then while in The Back Road we see the  investigation proceeding from the eyes of Ellie, the suspect. (Something similar had happened in the first book as well.)

For this reason, I would definitely call both DCI Tom Douglas books I have read so far to be psychological thrillers, because a significant aspect of the text is about learning about the psychology of the main characters and how the crime affects their emotions and thoughts. We also get access to Tom's thoughts and feelings about the crimes, the investigation and the suspects s well as developments in his personal life. This is pretty typical with police procedural, investigator-driven mysteries but what I think is new/different here is the focus on the internal psychological conflict(s) of others besides the primary protagonists. And, I'm not sure that I'm a fan of this particular twist on the genre. It takes attention away from the narrative tension of the mystery itself (who did it, how will "we" figure out who did it and what will the consequences be) which usually dominates works in the mystery genre. That, and the fact that there's not very much diversity in the supporting characters in the books is definitely making me reassess my commitment to continuing this series. If I'm going to read murder-mysteries with non-genre elements I'd prefer to spend my time with stories that have female protagonists (like Jane Casey's Maeve Kerrigan, Elly Griffiths' Ruth Galloway, Robert Bryndza's Erika Foster and Robert Dugoni's Tracy Crosswhite) or diverse casts (like Peter James DCI Roy Grace and Sarah Hilary's Marnie Rome). That being said, I do also enjoy books with just a plain old white guy as the protagonist (like C.J. Box's Joe Pickett and William Kent Krueger's Cork O'Connor).

Overall, The Back Road is an entertaining mystery novel with substantial suspense and psychological content. For those looking for a more traditional police procedural crime thriller I would suggest look elsewhere but clearly there are many people who appreciate Rachel Abbott's approach to the genre and I can see why.

Title: The Back Road.
Rachel Abbott.
Format: Kindle.
Length: 472 pages.
Publisher: Black Dot Publishing .
Date Published: March 8, 2013.
Date Read: November 19, 2021.

GOODREADS RATING: ★★★★☆  (4.0/5.0).

OVERALL GRADE: B+/A- (3.5/4.0).


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