Boyd, Damien. As the Crow Flies.

Seattle: Thomas & Mercer, 2015.

It seems to be almost mandatory, when you’re creating a new detective fiction series, to give the lead investigative character some trait or quirk or hobby that makes them stand out from all the other detectives. Nero Wolf is obese and grows orchids, Poirot is a fop with a hairnet, Michael Gideon is covered with bad burn scars. True, Harry Bosch and John Rebus are just old-style coppers working the mean streets, but even they have those oddball names.

The gimmick with DI Nick Dixon of Somerset and Avon CID is that he’s an avid rock climber. Or at least he used to be before he went off to London and joined the Met. After some years, though, he asked for a transfer back to his native Burnham-on-Sea in Somerset because he missed the countryside and the sea, not to mention the nearby Cheddar Gorge — a Mecca for free-climbers. The Gorge can also be a dangerous place, though, as Dixon remembers when his old friend and climbing partner, Jake Fayter, falls several hundred feet in what is assumed to be merely a fatal accident. But Jake was too good and too experienced a climber to make the sort of mistake everyone is assuming, and Nick begins poking around in the matter. Then he begins to find out some things about Jake’s recent history he rather wishes he didn’t have to know. And suddenly it’s a murder investigation.

The author is from Burnham, too, and (naturally) has climbed all over the Gorge himself, so the verisimilitude is strong — even though he doesn’t offer a lot of explanations about the climbing as such. (Probably a good narrative decision, actually.) I don’t know much about his background — he seems to be a solicitor working in criminal law — but in this first book he seems to get all the police procedural detail right. His style is straightforward and unadorned, which suits the plot and the story, and when the characters emote, they’re British enough to do it quietly. Not a bad start. Boyd has a couple more books out now and I’ll be looking for them.

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