Disturbed Earth is the second in a series of supernatural investigation novels. It feels like there’s not many of that genre set in Britain, and even fewer set outside of London, so it’s nice to see one set in the north of England. The narrative also fully justifies the cliché that “It’s grim up North”. Where other texts in the genre often have a wry, cynical tone to them, this feels a lot like a dark detective drama, which just happens to have a supernatural side. Tonally, it felt a lot like Prime Suspect with demons.
The main focus, as traditional in a police procedural novel, is the lead detective of an investigative unit; in this case the under-staffed, under-funded Ritual Crimes Unit, suffering in the aftermath of its last investigation by having even fewer experienced staff than usual. The protagonist, Claire Pierce, is intelligent, cautious, and well defined – the author paints the character’s motivations, feelings and logic with a fine brush. That those motivations are almost invariably pessimistic is, if not expected, certainly in line with the procedural genre. The supporting characters are less well drawn – in particular, a new DS that the protagonist has to deal with seems to be unrelentingly antagonistic for no particular reason. It would have been nice to see a little less conflict and a little more nuance here – on the other hand, it again fits inside the genre convention, so I can’t complain too much.
The narrative tracks the protagonist and her team as they work through two seemingly unrelated investigations, pulling in witnesses, amassing evidence, and trying to avoid attention from management oversight. Some of the investigative portions are paced a little slowly for me, but perfectly well written, and the action segments have a pleasingly page-turning quality to them.
Overall then, if you like crime novels that have the odd bit of supernatural weirdness in them, this may well be for you; and if you’re a fan of urban fantasy, and are prepared to accept one with a bit more focus on the police than the magic, then you’ll likely find this an excellent read. It’s dark, dramatic, and occasionally funny – and a such, a good read.