In what could have easily been a gritty crime drama surrounding a rugged detective with a chip on his shoulder, author P.F. Ford instead delivers an amusing and engaging thriller with a buddy-cop feel in Death of a Temptress. The author writes with a savage passion and an attention to detail that keeps the suspense boiling up and the action bursting.
DS Slater comes on the scene as a rough around the edges cop that has been recently dealt a blow to his ego and reputation. When he tries to edge his way back into some good graces as a detective, he finds himself in the middle of another investigation that just might vindicate his earlier failings. The tangle of characters and overlapping plots is relatively well done, and Ford clearly has good skills as a draughtsman, but the ending misses the mark a bit.
The author clearly enjoys suspenseful dialogue and the minutiae of a scene, as though he is seeing a movie in his head and dictating it onto paper. That being said, the dialogue isn’t always believable, or natural, which occasionally detracts from the tension the author is trying to build in a scene.
The investigation itself, when coupled with the comic relief introduction of Norman Norman, makes for a slow-burning mystery, and while the intricacy of the plot isn’t constantly engaging, there aren’t any major plot holes to fall through. The relationship between Norman and Slater is crucial to holding the book together, as many of the other characters seem confusingly linked, populating plot lines that often go nowhere. The second players also aren’t particularly interesting foils, and they seem to be plagued by one-dimensional personalities.
The attention given to Slater and his more intricately developed story helps keep a reader focused, and as a protagonist, he is written in a larger-than-life sense. Slater is debonair and dashing, despite his obvious flaws, and certain scenes are a bit too cliché to be taken seriously. Sex is an easy crutch to spice up any story, but in a number of ways, it is overdone in the book, and serves more as a distraction than an erotic treat.
The ending of the book, not to give away any spoilers, is dramatic and epic, and once again on a Hollywood scale of impossibility, but by this point in the book, readers have become accustomed to suspending their disbelief. That is where this story operates, somewhere between gritty noir realism and blockbuster fiction.
The writing isn’t flawed in technical terms, but a thorough line edit may have helped to smooth some of the writing and alter the dialogue to be more genuine. Certain scenes seem rushed, while other plot developments bear no fruit, and this makes the book easier to put down. Ford has a good hold on the idea of writing for the suspense genre, but could use more work on plot originality and character engagement. Readers not only want to invest in characters, but also in a believable string of events, clues and revelations. If a story strays too far into eye-rolling impossibility, then interest is almost certainly lost.
Overall, Death of a Temptress does a good job of delivering redemption where it is deserved, and appealing to a particular type of reader. It’s worth the short read, despite its occasional weak spots, and the book ends with plenty of room for further adventures for Slater, which will be worth another chance.