Americans are familiar with Lynda La Plante from her "Prime Suspect" novels, made into a successful British TV series starring Helen Mirren as Detective Chief Inspector Jane Tennison, as well as an American spinoff. La Plante's Anna Travis is less known here -- the TV series "Above Suspicion" has not yet crossed the Atlantic -- but she is no less interesting, and the plot of "Blood Line," Ms. La Plante's latest Travis adventure, is superbly crafted with terse yet colorful prose in her now familiar mold.
By Lynda La Plante
Harper Paperback Original ($14.99).
Travis is not a very pleasant person to be with or work for. She is grieving over the recent death of her fiance (in the line of duty) and getting used to her new role of London's murder squad DCI -- a promotion engineered by her previous lover, Superintendent James Langton.
The story of "Blood Line" begins when a meek court employee comes to Travis, claiming that his son has been murdered. In fact, the son, handsome and charming Alan Rawlins, has been missing for two weeks, but there is no proof that he is not alive. Technically, it's a missing persons case, out of Travis' purview. No body has been found, but Langton convinces her to take on the case nonetheless.
There are indeed suspicious circumstances. Rawlins came home from work to the London flat he shares with his fiancee, hairdresser Tina Brooks, saying he had a migraine. Tina went to her salon and returned to find him gone. Her first conclusion, when he did not return for several days, was that he left her for another woman.
Suspicion falls on Tina when a search of her apartment uncovers blood stains, and a TV camera in a large department store shows her purchasing large amounts of bleach. The missing man, described by all who know him as gentle, kind and having no known enemies, may have been living a double life. He took regular trips to Cornwall, presumably for surfing. Tina never accompanied him there because she couldn't swim, and an early investigation suggests that many of his Cornwall companions have been young gay men. What his relationship with them is or was, however, is not clear.
Homophobia rears its ugly head in many forms, and there is a parallel to Tina's learning about her soon-to-be-husband's escapades, when Travis finds out that her own partner, Detective Sergeant Paul Simms, is himself gay. There's a lot of gender-bending as the tale progresses, most of it credible, and it adds meaningfully to the mystery's delicious complications.
Lynda La Plante takes a lot of chances with a far-fetched plot and way-out characters, and she hardly ever misses the mark in this absorbing page-turner.
Robert Croan is a Post-Gazette senior editor.