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Harriet Martens #1: The Hard Detective by H.R.F. Keating (2000)



Hardcover with DJ in Very Good (VG) condition. 

H.R.F. Keating wrote the book on crime fiction (several, actually, including his 1991 text Writing Crime Fiction) and has, over time, built a thoroughbred stable of police detectives. With The Hard Detective's Harriet Martens, the stable grows by one memorable, and memorably unpleasant, entrant.

Detective Chief Inspector Martens doesn't care for criminals, whether truants or axe-wielding thugs, nor does she suffer her less-than-perfect underlings gladly. She does, however, care about the quality of life in Greater Birchester, and she happily hobbles, via her Gestapoesque yet successful "Stop the Rot" campaign, all who go astray. And all's well in Greater B. until Patrol Constable "Titty" Titmuss comes down with a case of knife-in-the-back. A blue-clad hint that the underworld has had enough of "Stop the Rot"? Plausible, until another constable, momentarily blinded, succumbs to the wheels of a city bus, and the loathsome Detective Superintendent "Froggy" Froggott is stabbed through the mouth and relieved of a tooth.

It's soon clear to those with eyes that a serial killer fond of biblical verse is strolling through Exodus 21:23 and taking the coppers with him. Knowing full well who the smiter is, Martens races her prey to a better-than-expected denouement.

It's a testament to Keating's skill that The Hard Detective is as entertaining as it is, even though it's not his best. Newcomers might want to start with the Ghote series opener, 1964's The Perfect Murder. That said, it just may be that veteran readers have come to expect ever greater things from the man who wrote the book. --Michael Hudson