An Empty Death, By Laura Wilson

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The Independent Culture

London, 1944. Doodlebugs rain from the sky. Yet something resembling normal life goes on; hospitals have to be run, and crimes have to be solved. DI Ted Stratton is called to investigate the death of a doctor, and it soon turns into a murder enquiry. Then a nurse at the same hospital is found strangled. Then a pathologist is killed.

This is a superb crime thriller. The plot is a pleasing combination of the just-guessable and the unpredictable, and Stratton is the perfect detective: strong, taciturn but deep-feeling, commanding both respect and sympathy. The character of Sam Todd, a Ripley-esque identity thief who becomes Dr James Dacre, is brilliantly drawn. So, too, the bombed-out Mrs Ingram who suffers from Capgras syndrome, the delusion that her spouse has been replaced by an evil impostor. And Wilson evokes the wartime atmosphere vividly: the chronic shortages, the constant weariness, the endless consolatory cups of tea and the huddling in pubs amid the ruined cityscape. One feels that if Patrick Hamilton had written a detective novel, it would have been something like this – and indeed Wilson nods to Hamilton in a reference to his play Gaslight.