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Book Review: Clean Cut by Lynda La Plante

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Lynda La Plante is well known to mystery/suspense readers. Her BBC television series, Prime Suspect, ran for seven seasons and starred award-winning actress Helen Mirren as DCI Jane Tennison. In addition to being an actress herself and writing movie and television scripts, La Plante has written several stand-alone and series novels.

The author’s latest book, Clean Cut, is the third in her Anna Travis series. Red Dahlia and Above Suspicion. I hadn’t read either of the previous books, but I had no problem diving into this one regarding backstory. La Plante delivers well-developed characters with a tremendous amount of internal conflict. What I needed to know about the two primary characters, Anna and her lover Detective Chief Inspector Jimmy Langdon, was quickly supplied, and I was immersed into the new problems that faced them as a couple and as police officers.

After a rather slow-paced launch at the start of the book, though deep in character complications, Anna starts questioning her relationship with Langdon. She’s gotten irritated at the way she seems to have turned from lover to caretaker for him, all without appreciation. Then she gets the phone call that turns her life inside out: Langdon was attacked at his latest crime scene. She’s told that even if he lives, Langdon will probably never walk again.

The book centers at the outset on the test of the two wills of Anna and Langdon. She wants to help, but he’s so cynical and bitter that she can barely stand to be around him. Not only that, but she finds out that Langdon is going behind her back to get information about the man that attacked him. Anna fears that Langdon is engaging in a vendetta that will land him in trouble with the law. If the wheelchair doesn’t get Jimmy Langdon, it looks like prison will.

I liked the characters a lot because they have obvious history and “feel” real. I hated the way Langdon treats Anna, but I totally understood where Langdon’s mind is while in the hospital. People in situations like Langdon’s strike out at those that love them because those people are the only ones willing to put up with them. This bitterness spreads throughout the novel as Anna’s own murder case suddenly intersects with the investigation Langdon was pursuing when he was nearly killed.

La Plante uses the novel to point out how vulnerable countries are these days. Transient populations drift through major cities, like London in this novel, and bring a lot of danger and crime because that’s a big part of what those people have to rely on for employment. The presentation of La Plante’s views may be unsettling for some, but there’s now denying the existence of the problem.

The book remains steady throughout, and its solid police work that breaks the cases wide open and connects them. There are no car chases, martial arts battles, or shootouts. The action La Plante relays in her pages is propelled by emotion and the reader’s driving curiosity to find out what’s going to happen next. The author has a great ear for dialogue, and her police characters talk the way those people do, in rough vernacular tinged with black humor.

Clean Cut is a good book, but it’s made even better by the stress on Anna and Langdon’s relationships. The final few pages will come as a shock to some. And it will leave readers wondering what’s going to happen for Anna in the next book.

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  • Elaine Weightman

    I have just finished Clean Cut by Linda La Plante. A fast paced read but what a wimp Anna is. If she is an example of the best the police force can produce in terms of assertiveness within her rank there is little hope. Where is DCI Helen Mirren? As for her victim relationship with the bully boy Inspector – I despair. True Mills and Boon. I was looking for the swooning at his manly chest. Will have to read the former two books to see if Anna’s prissy personality and doormat nature is a result of her being bullied by a too dominant father. I did like the way Lynda La Plante kept summing up a rather difficult 3 intertwined case plot so we all kept the various strands in out heads. Horrendous images of life in the dregs – have lived in rural isolation so long I don’t know if this is in any way what London living is like now. Hope not.

    Does anyone else think Anna a wimp?

  • Ophelia

    No i love anna’s character although she at times seems like an idiot for falling for various types of men. but i must admit i love reading about her.

  • Liliana

    I thought this book was bad and poorly written. The main character was the most interesting one, true. But the writer focused on such mundane (procedural) details that I really started skimming the thing. Also, are we really supposed to believe the main character would stay with such an ass. Also, there were far too many peripheral characters. I kept saying to myself, who? Too many police officers, too many undistinguished, poorly characterized criminals, and too much demonizing of immigrants (also, I could never figure out where these people all emigrated from). The story was almost too topical. It was certainly too plodding and procedural, taking way too long to get going. I was disappointed. It was too too much. (Sorry to use “too” so much.) Obviously, LaPlante’s books require great actresses to make them worthwhile. I never finished the previous LaPlante book I tried.

  • Kit

    I’m a huge Lynda LaPlante fan, back to Widows which I happened upon while in London. I briefly met her at the first Los Angeles Book Festival. I saw every episode of Prime Suspect and now anticipate the TV series. As for Anna Travis I picked it up at Heathrow on my way home and loved it but I missed this one so now have some backstory until I can get it.

    I just finished Above Suspicion then picked up one by Elizabeth George. Her writing is amateurish by comparison. Now I’m in process of buying all Lynda’s book I don’t have and re-reading them sequentially.

    The Anna Travis series is different from the Jane Tennyson, I’m sure on purpose. But they are equally enjoyable as police procedurals. Sometimes I think Anna shows no common sense going off alone after being warned of it – these are nasty people she’s chasing and highly dangerous, especially after Langdon, a tougher cop, nearly gets killed. But since her father died she’s a bit adrift for role models and it fits the character.

    A lot of words to say she’s my favorite author. Lynda LaPlante would have made it more interesting.