MY LITTLE EYE
Stephanie Marland (crimethrillergirl.com)
There’s a serial killer on the loose in London. The Lover has already killed three women, leaving them made-up to look like someone else. The Metropolitan Police are struggling to find any leads. Meanwhile, the members of the True Crime London social network, including PhD student Clementine Starke, are convinced that they can carry out a parallel investigation in real time and solve the case before the police. But can Clementine really trust these faceless people with whom she has thrown in her lot, and how will the police react when they discover that amateurs are potentially interfering with their investigation?
Stephanie Marland – also known as Lori Anderson creator Steph Broadribb – turns her attention from America’s Deep South to central London to present an old-fashioned whodunit with a modern twist in this first novel of a promising new series. At the centre of My Little Eye we follow two characters who are as psychologically damaged as each other as they attack the problem of this new serial killer, The Lover, from two very different angles.
Clementine Starke is a PhD student who has spent years researching how people interact online and how their online personalities are different from their real-life ones. She is particularly interested in those people who gravitate to true crime forums, and is convinced that a group of amateurs with the proper motivation could solve a crime in real time before the police. Clementine has more than her fair share of secrets, convinced that she was involved in her father’s death twelve years earlier. A recluse ever since, Clementine is afraid that anyone who looks at her will immediately know her for a murderer, her role in the Lover investigation is her first real interaction with people outside an online environment in over a decade.
On the other side of the investigation, Detective Inspector Dominic Bell is fighting demons of his own. With the Lover racking up three bodies in less than a month, Dom is already being demonised by the press, but he is carrying out the investigation while undergoing investigation by the IPCC for his role in a recent failed operation that left one detective in a coma. The fact that the injured detective – Therese Weller – was Dom’s lover at the time, and that the two other people who could have sold the operation out to their target were his best friend and his future brother-in-law, have been weighing heavily on Dom’s mind ever since, not helped by the fact that he took a blow to the head early in the proceedings and remembers little of what happened on the night. As the Lover’s body-count increases, Dom finds himself facing obstacle after obstacle – a Detective Sergeant who has no respect for him, a potential leak on his team and a boss who is doing little to help alleviate the combined pressure from the press and the IPCC.
Marland’s debut is a fast-paced and tightly-plotted whodunit that will appeal to the vanity of any armchair sleuth. How often have we read a crime novel confident that we can solve the crime before the detective? In My Little Eye, Marland invites us to do just that, only this time we find ourselves in a three-way race, against both the amateurs of True Crime London and the experts of Scotland Yard. In a series of misdirections and suspicions inspired by Clementine’s own outlook on the case and her companions, Marland manages to keep us guessing until the final act and makes My Little Eye the type of book that cries out to be finished in a single sitting.
The central characters both feel like real people, their problems and qualms playing big parts of who they both are. There are times where the prose is heavy-handed in hinting at their pasts without revealing too much to the reader, but this is a minor niggle in an otherwise wonderfully-written novel. Neither Clementine nor Dom are particularly likeable – they’re both just a little bit too damaged and too suspicious of the rest of the world for that to be possible – but they’re both engaging narrators, and there are worse people in whose company we could spend this time. Alongside the criminal investigation, Marland examines the way we interact with others online, and tries to go some way towards explaining the differences between who we are and who we pretend to be – based on her own extensive research, according to the note that opens the proof copy. The idea of crowdsourcing a live police investigation is a fascinating one and, while some of the methods that Clementine and her friends use in the novel are questionable at best, Marland presents a well-reasoned argument as to how the hive mind might be used by the police in the course of their investigations.
In all, My Little Eye is an excellent and gripping debut, at once a challenge and a warning for the amateur sleuth. It’s a strong opening to a new series, and leaves enough loose ends dangling to allow continuity in a second book – what exactly happened to Clementine’s father, and how did Operation Atlantis go so wrong? Already one of my favourite recent authors in her Steph Broadribb guise, Stephanie Marland proves she’s as comfortable writing British crime as American thrillers and adds yet another series to my ever-growing list of must-reads.