The Antonia Hawkins books by Alastair Gunn have titles named after notable periods in the calendar – The Advent Killer, My Bloody Valentine and Cold Christmas. There are actually four books in the series but strangely the third book is titled The Keeper and is the book that I haven’t read. I have no idea why the same naming system wasn’t used for all four volumes.
These are police procedural novels set in London and Antonia leads her first murder investigation in the first book of the quartet. She is aware that she is being watched by her colleagues and her superiors and is determined not to mess up her chance in the lead but as the series progresses you realise that she has actual enemies in the police service. The pressure and her need to assert herself make Antonia bad tempered and often downright rude. She ignores social conventions and disobeys orders. She works herself into the ground and when she is very badly injured by a criminal she lies about her recovery and she goes back to work when she is clearly unfit.
But Antonia is, of course, a gifted detective and succeeds in solving crimes where no one else can. Each of the three books I have read has a coherent plot with the police up against some sort of deadline to catch a killer, even if it is only to restrict the number of deaths. The books are well enough done and engaging but Antonia dominates the narrative and we see everything filtered through her eyes and through a type of paranoia. I have to confess that, although I enjoyed the books, I found Antonia tiring as she keeps annoying people and wearing herself into the ground when she possibly doesn’t have to. I didn’t hate this aspect of the books otherwise I wouldn’t have read three of them but it didn’t make me love them. I know that it is now established tradition for our leading detectives to be dysfunctional but occasionally I like to read about people who make better decisions for their lives.
Of the three books named after notable dates in the calendar I have to say that despite the titles the days/dates actually feature very little in the storyline and (very minor spoiler) in none of them does the time of year or the season turn out to be the motivation for the killer.
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