An Accidental Death: A DC Smith Investigation, by Peter Grainger

Along an English stream a trio of teens are swimming and call out teasingly to boaters as they drift downstream. One, a well-known sixth form* athlete, jumps in to swim toward a canoe as it is about to go around a bend. He laughs and yells that he’s going to catch the boat. Hours later his body is found next to the stream.

The autopsy is generally straightforward, declaring it an accidental drowning. But there are a few confusing notes in the file. Detective Constable (DC) Smith has returned to work following his wife’s death. His supervisor, a woman he trained, assigns him to follow up on the file so that it can be closed as a way to ease him back into duty. When he discusses the notes with a woman on the examining team she notes two oddities about the body. There’s a small fish-shaped bruise on the boy’s head. Also his ribs have been broken as if someone very strong had given the boy CPR.

Now, with the son of an old partner fresh out of the academy and following him as a trainee, Smith begins to follow clues and instincts to try to explain the anomalies. Not far into the investigation he begins to feel pressure from higher ups in the force to close the case, for reasons that seem to have nothing to do with the increasingly tight budgets.

DC Smith is always a pleasure to have in a book on your lap. He is inconceivably nice and non-neurotic. He has heroic elements: courage, a determination to see justice. Meanwhile, despite his lack of promotions, he’s loved and respected by almost everyone else he works with. He’s fair to those he supervises and respectful to those who supervise him. Even working through the remaining grief and nostalgia for his late wife he carries on. With a trainee next to him in this book he carefully lays out the reason he’s taking certain steps and offers tips for solo work.

This mystery novel was the first in what is now a seven-book series featuring DC Smith as investigator. Even as a first book there’s something hanging around Smith from a previous investigation that went wrong. Smith was only tangentially related to the case but it still has marred his reputation. Bits of the story gradually come out through the books, but the whole story has yet to be told. So if you find yourself wondering about that earlier case as you read ┬áit’s just as Grainger intended.

*Sixth form: a British university preparatory education for students 16-18.