Review: The Red Dahlia by Lynda La Plante

Title: The Red Dahlia

Author: Lynda La Plante

Publisher: Simon and Schuster [2006]

ISBN: 0-7432-5708-1

The body of a young woman is found on the banks of the Thames in London. She is so disfigured and mutilated that even seasoned police struggle to maintain their composure. As the investigative team starts undertaking the hundreds of mundane but necessary tasks that will help them identify the woman and. hopefully her killer, they are taunted with news that the case is a copycat of a 1940’s murder which occurred in California and was the subject of a recently published book. DCI James Langton and DI Anna Travis are, for the second time, brought together to work on the case.

La Plante is a prolific writer of both crime fiction books and television shows but, apart from the Prime Suspect TV series, I’m not a particular fan of her work and haven’t religiously followed any of her series. Even then I think my fondness for that show has more to do with Helen Mirren’s acting in the pivotal role of Jane Tennison than La Plante’s writing. I’ve read a couple of her books before and have found them readable but not outstanding. I gave this book a go due to the recommendation of a friend but, again, I found it lacked something.

The plotting is good although it drags a bit for the first half. However it does a good job of showing the frustration that police must feel when there are no leads or clues or evidence in such cases. When the police have a key suspect and start investigating him and his family the suspense starts to build and I did become keen to find out how, or if, the case would resolve and there was a real build up of suspense towards the end. Unfortunately for me I found the increasingly detailed descriptions of the heinous acts committed by the main suspect took me out of the story rather than kept me riveted as I’m sure they were supposed to do.

I don’t have to like characters to be engaged by them but I do want them to be interesting in some way and none of the characters in The Red Dahlia had the ‘X’ factor that makes them stay with me after I’ve finished the book. Anna Travis is certainly clever with a vulnerable side but it felt a bit like La Plante had a checklist of characteristics and life events for her that were being marked off as the book progressed. James Langton is a similarly cardboard cutout character; another near-alcoholic, obsessive copper that I’ll forget all about inside a month. Neither the victims of the awful crimes nor the suspects were depicted in such a way as to generate much of a reaction in me either. There were some genuine human emotions displayed by the two daughters of the main suspect but their roles in the story weren’t enough to carry the entire book.

The last 100 or so pages of the book were great in terms of pacing and story development but in a near 500 page book that simply isn’t good enough. The rest of the book contained to much unnecessary filler, such as the entire thread involving the profiler which added nothing to the plot and minimally to character development. In combination with characters I didn’t care much about I was left with a somewhat ho hum reading experience.

My rating 2.5/5

Other stuff

Karen reviewed the book at Euro Crime and liked it much more than I did

The Mystery Reader also reviewd it and had similar thoughts to me

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2 Responses to Review: The Red Dahlia by Lynda La Plante

  1. Kerrie says:

    I liked it a lot more than you. But then I listened to it rather than read it, and I’m sure that affects my judgement.
    In general though I have liked all that I’ve read in this series.


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