Book review: Good Friday by Lynda La Plante

Long before she was a formidable detective chief inspector, Jane Tennison was a rookie police officer finding her feet in the tough world of 1970s London.
Good Friday by Lynda La PlanteGood Friday by Lynda La Plante
Good Friday by Lynda La Plante

It was a city rocked by social and political tensions, and her workplace with the Met was a hotbed of male chauvinism and blatant discrimination… but the fledgling high-flyer was more than up to the job.

Lynda La Plante, the Liverpudlian who became one of the UK’s most famous crime queens, is back on the beat with the third book in her all-action, high octane Tennison series which sees the legendary heroine of the hit Nineties ITV series Prime Suspect making her way in a man’s world 20 years before she hit our screens.

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Brimming with nostalgia – dinosaur detectives in polo necks and flared trousers smoking Marlboro cigarettes and dashing about in their Fords – these terrific prequel crime thrillers are rollercoaster rides through tension-packed, fast-moving plots peppered with dark humour and a fascinating slice of no-nonsense Seventies-style policing.

In March 1976, London is still reeling from the IRA London bombing campaign which has seen over 40 blasts, killed 35 people and left many seriously injured. Only a few months earlier, the Bomb Squad was involved in tense stand-off during the IRA’s notorious Balcombe Street siege after a botched machine-gun attack.

Now another active IRA unit is at large and the city is once again prey to bombs being planted at any central location. It is into this febrile atmosphere that Tennison returns to Bow Street station, fresh from a course at Hendon and eager to begin work as a fully-fledged detective constable.

But on the way to court one morning, Jane passes through Covent Garden Underground station and is caught up in a bomb blast that leaves several people dead and many horribly injured. Jane is a key witness as she had a fleeting glimpse of the bomber but his hood was up and she is adamant that she can’t identify him.

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Tennison’s safety could now be compromised and when a photograph appears in the newspapers showing her assisting some of the injured people at the scene, it puts her and her family – including her fragile mother – at risk from IRA retaliation.

As the police battle to unmask the terrorists, hundreds of detectives and their wives are eagerly awaiting Good Friday when the annual CID black-tie dinner dance is due to take place at a central London hotel.

In the meantime, Tennison has been getting flashbacks to the terrible events at Covent Garden and when the big night arrives, she knows without a doubt that not only can she now recognise the bomber but that the IRA is closer than anyone thought…

La Plante is in her element in this suspense-packed crime thriller as she transports us back to London in the dark days of the terrifying IRA bombing campaign when the police and public lived in fear, never knowing when and where the bombers would strike.

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Meanwhile, the ambitious young Jane Tennison is slowly trying to climb her way up the police career ladder but the old-school rules, which regard women officers as ‘skirts’ and ‘don’t include female detectives,’ are constantly putting hurdles in her path.

Despite her enthusiasm, resourcefulness and tenacity, there is an appealing vulnerability to this embryonic Tennison; her hesitancy and flashes of insecurity, and her struggles to combine her work and love life, make her an entirely authentic and likeable character.

In Good Friday, La Plante ramps up the tension with her trademark skills as the now exceedingly risky annual police dance draws near and Tennison’s memories of the Covent Garden station attack begin to slowly filter through.

As always, the period detail and police procedural are immaculately portrayed, and with a finale guaranteed to leave readers on the edge of their seats, Tennison’s early days in the force are proving just as riveting as the experienced slick performer we all still cherish.

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(Zaffre, paperback, £7.99)