Devil in the Detail by Ed James

Following my review of Ghost in the Machine by Ed James, I was eager to read the next installment in the Scott Cullen series, Devil in the Detail. We rejoin DC Cullen as he struggles to get over the tragic death of his colleague as occurred in the final chapters of Ghost in the Machine. We also learn that the potential relationship with DS Sharon McNeill has developed somewhat since the first novel as they are now officially boyfriend and girlfriend and working on different teams now their relationship has gone public.

As I said in my review of Ghost in the Machine, I enjoyed seeing the rough-around-the-edges Cullen making mistakes and not being the perfect detective. In Devil in the Detail, I liked that there still seems to be a charted progression with Cullen. For example, he handles the awful (but funny, in my opinion) DI Bain much better than he did in Ghost in the Machine. (I still maintain that Bain has been modelled on Gene Hunt of Life on Mars/Ashes to Ashes – I half expected him to yell “Fire up the Quattro” or announce that he is having “‘oops” for dinner!) I’m not entirely sure that Bain fits with what we would expect from a high-ranking member of the police force nowadays, however, what would I know?

Cullen has also grown up a bit on the emotional front as he leaves his womanising past behind him for his relationship with DS Neill. However, he isn’t quite there yet as he wonders if he is ready for a stable relationship and attention from a local detective gives him some food for thought. He keeps his integrity in tact but it does cast a little bit of a doubt if there may be trouble ahead for Cullen and McNeill’s relationship. However, that is possibly a story for a later novel in the series, as there are not many interactions between them in this one.

Professionally, Cullen’s instincts are on top form as he works his way through the investigation, thinking outside the box to bring about leads and an eventual arrest. Irritated by Bain’s shortsightedness and angry with DS Irvine’s lackadaisical attitude, he uses his own initiative knowing that he is likely to encounter opposition along the way.

The storyline is suitably dark. A young, mentally disabled girl is found murder by a lady walking her dog and a mystery ensues about a cult-like religious with a surprisingly wealthy congregation. Everyone seems to agree that Jamie Cook is the man that they should be looking for, but as the secret lives of the residents unfurl, it becomes apparent that perhaps Jamie Cook is a convenient scapegoat for a more sordid reality.

James is brave in his subject choice as he tackles a number of sensitive subjects throughout the novel. Religion, paedophilia and bullying are all aspects that are approached to varying degrees and James does a fantastic job of taking these emotive subjects and entwining them into his story with an appropriate amount of delicacy and, as with Ghost in the Machine, I was really not sure who was to blame for the murders. I suspected that Jamie Cook was more victim than villain quite early on, however you’ll have to read it yourself if you wish to find out if I was right or not!

I’m really enjoying the DC Cullen series and I have the other books in the series downloaded, poised to be read in the next couple of months. I think that if Bain continues as he has in the other books, this may become slightly annoying, because while he may have some of his traits, he’s no Gene Hunt. I’m assuming that there may be trouble ahead for Cullen and McNeill, however, they appear to make a very good partnership. I would have like to see them work together again. (Perhaps this would be an advantage of a personal relationship breakdown.) I’m also curious to see what effect DI Cargill will have in future novels given the amount of preparation we are given for this character throughout Devil in the Detail. James has a real talent for building up a character through the eyes of the other members of the team.

Devil in the Detail is a really well written novel that is essentially more of the same from James. Everything I liked about Ghost in the Machine, I liked about this novel. The plot is intricately woven, Cullen’s instincts win out in the end and ultimately, Cullen is still flawed, which, as I mentioned in my review of Ghost in the Machine, I found really refreshing. Ed James commented following my review of Ghost in the Machine that I didn’t mention the swearing, or the dialect, for that matter. As my Twitter feed (@segnalibroblog) and my post The Effects of Dialect and Swearing in Novels attests, I have no issue with swearing if it is context and I never once felt that it was gratuitous in either novel. As for the dialect, I’d have actually liked to see a few more Scottish idioms and phrases in Devil in the Detail, but I can understand why there is not. However, I just did what I imagine many readers would do and I read it in a Scottish accent!!