‘Raw Material’ – Beatrice Stubbs #2 by JJ Marsh

Ever feel like you’re being watched?

London 2012. A Portuguese cleaner under a railway bridge. Two schoolgirls on a canal bank. A French student at a bus stop. All victims of the same serial offender.

This predator must be stopped before he turns rapist. But how do you catch someone who prowls the London underground, leaving no more trace than a shadow?

From deserted Pembrokeshire beaches, through the underpasses of London, to the remote Irish countryside, Beatrice uncovers the darker side of human nature.

‘Raw Material’ is the second book in the Beatrice Stubbs series that currently stands at thirteen books in all. Each book can be read as a standalone novel but each has Beatrice Stubbs, a veteran Detective Inspector with the Metropolitan Police at its heart. Beatrice looks at the world differently from most people. She’s a bi-polar, metaphor-mixing, deeply insightful, introverted, suicide survivor with a strong sense of personal responsibility for solving the crimes she investigates.

I first met Beatrice Stubbs last year, when I read ‘Behind Closed Doors’, her first assignment after returning to work after recovering from her suicide attempt. ‘Behind Closed Doors’ was set in Zurich and had an international team working to solve a complex crime linked to international finance. I was impressed with how well that book captured what it’s like to bring an international team together, how vivid the descriptions of the places were and how well the humour worked.

I’d expected ‘Raw Material’ to be an extension of ‘Behind Closed Doors’ but it was quite different, at least in content. It had many of the same strengths. JJ Marsh knows how to make a place feel real, whether it’s a small port on the Pembrokeshire coast, busy train stations in the heart of London or remote farms in Ireland. She also builds strong, credible characters and delivers believable dialogue, often laced with humour. What’s different about ‘Raw Material’ is that it’s much more personal. This is Beatrice Stubbs in her home environment, solving crimes that touch people she knows and cares about.

‘Raw Material’ follows two investigations: one into an organised, aggressive flasher/stalker who shows all the signs of being on a path to becoming a serial rapist; the other into some kind of smuggling activity in the tiny Pembrokeshire fishing village that Beatrice and her partner rent a holiday cottage in.

The two plots aren’t linked by anything apart from Beatrice’s involvement and by the pathological behaviour at the heart of each. This gave the book a slightly disconnected feel at first until I realised that both plots told me about Bridget’s strengths and weaknesses and her ability to see them and about how she is regarded by the people around her.

I liked the contrast between the way the two plots were worked. The flasher/stalker investigation was a joint operation between the Met and British Transport Police and followed a typical police procedural pattern, enriched by the involvement of strong personalities on the police team and by an escalating level of harm by the perpetrator. The smuggling investigation was an amateur thing, triggered by the theft of a camera from Beatrice’s holiday cottage and followed up by Beatrice’s partner and her neighbour, neither of whom has the training or the personality needed for the task but who do manage to get themselves into a great deal of trouble. Both plots were quite dark, dealing with things that people do when they cease seeing others as human.

What I liked most about the book were the strong women characters: three women police officers in addition to Beatrice. Two of them had a personal history that set them at odds. All of them have very different styles. Beatrice is probably the most insightful and least charismatic of the four. I was impressed not just by how clearly the characters of the women were drawn but how real and varied their interactions felt. The dialogue was pitch-perfect as were the ways in which they handled both conflict and collaboration.

I enjoyed ‘Raw Material’, although not as much as ‘Behind Closed Doors’. As a standalone mystery, it was good but not great. As an episode in a series about a complex woman operating in a stressful environment, it had a lot to recommend it.

I’ll certainly be reading the third book in the series, ‘Tread Softly’ which sees Beatrice involved in a mystery while on a sabbatical in the Basque country in Northern Spain.

I recommend the audiobook version of ‘Raw Material’, narrated by Jill Prewett. Click on the SoundCloud link below to hear a sample.

Jill Marsh is a British writer, currently living in Switzerland. She has worked all over Europe as an actor, teacher, writer, director, editor, journalist and cultural trainer

Jill has published thirteen Beatrice Stubbs books, two standalone novels and a short story collection.

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