Nigel McCrery's first book about DCI Mark Lapslie, Still Waters, was a pleasant – if somewhat gruesome – surprise. McCrery created an unusual and charismatic police detective who suffers from synaesthesia, the mis-wiring of sensory input in his brain. Lapslie tastes sounds. He hears them as well, but they also configure themselves as tastes, sometimes in a revolting combination. The cacophony of the police station, for example, tastes like blood. The thundering of a train passing by results in such an overwhelming mixture of salt and peaches in his mouth that Lapslie is driven to his knees, vomiting over the side of the train station platform.
In Tooth and Claw, we pick up Lapslie's story about a year after Still Waters. He lives and works in isolation, his synaesthesia having worsened. In what he fears is his department's move to "retire" him because of his disability, he is assigned the torture-murder of a young TV newsreader. He must come out of hiding and actively investigate the case. At the crime site, he notices an unsual drumming sound, which no one else admits to hearing. Later he is assigned to a bombing at a train station. A double duty of very public cases sends Lapslie a definite message that people are just waiting for him to fail. When he faints at a news conference, it seems to signal the end. Between the drumming and the worsening of his symptoms, Lapslie wonders if he is finally going mad.
This would be fairly standard British detective fare, except for the twist McCrery throws in. We learn pretty much from the start who did it. We learn that the Who is the same Who in both cases. We learn that the Who is a young man, Carl, who is taking care of his invalid father. We learn that Carl has been trying to vary his murders – in this case meaning more than two – to confound the police profiler. Despite knowing a great deal right from the start, we only gradually learn the full pathetic nature of his derangement at the end.
All the elements taken separately are intriguing, but put together they strike too even a tone of intensity. If I could taste this book, it would be one big creamy peanutbutter sandwich. There's enough to satisfy, but not enough variety. McCrery has a few lighter moments, but he could have used a few more, especially since there was one note of doom after another. Actually, he could have used a few more "normal" moments for his characters, who always seemed to be either averting or participating in a moment of jeopardy. But there's a good interplay between the various investigating people – I especially liked the pathologist. And I was interested in the second "odd" disease McCrery introduces: porphyria. Let me leave you with this: There were many parts of the book I liked and found reading it worthwhile.
P.S. The murder descriptions are very graphic and gory.