Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Fame at her fingertips

Crime has never been my favourite fiction genre. I’m absurdly squeamish and hate reading anything gory.

But over the last three years I’ve become hooked on Lynda La Plante’s compelling Anna Travis stories. I was gripped the moment I read the first one, Above Suspicion, and read the rest the moment they were published.

Silent Scream, out in paperback this week, is the fifth in the series. And yet again, despite the gruesome crime scenes, I couldn’t put it down.

This time round, Detective Inspector Anna Travis is assigned to investigate the murder of film star Amanda Delany. At 24, the stunning actress had fame, fortune, a £3 million mews house and a host of devoted fans at her fingertips. So who on earth would have wanted to kill her? And why?

As Travis (no one bothers with her first name) and the rest of the police team work on the case they discover that Amanda Delany’s public facade is actually a sham. Behind the glossy exterior was a lonely, damaged girl – with seemingly uncaring parents, a long list of ex-lovers, an anorexic body and an expensive drug habit. As the pathologist conducting the post mortem puts it: “The reality is, she was a shell of a woman.”

La Plante made her name with ITV’s much-acclaimed Prime Suspect, starring Dame Helen Mirren, but she’s also a highly-skilled novelist who weaves the horror of Travis’s day-to-day work with the machinations of her tangled love life. Much of the success of the Anna Travis series hinges on the on-off relationship between the young DI and her charismatic boss, Detective Chief Superintendent James Langton. The two were briefly an item, and there’s still a spark between them. But now Langton’s remarried and has two children and Travis, keenly aware that it’s crucial to keep her feelings for him “well below the surface,” has no intention of rekindling their affair.

The book has its fair share of preposterous moments, but somehow they don’t seem to matter. Just like the four earlier books in the series, Silent Scream races along at breakneck speed as Travis hunts for the sordid truth behind Amanda Delany’s terrible death.

It’s a mark of the Travis books’ success that the first two have been adapted for ITV, with Kelly Reilly starring as Travis and Ciaran Hinds as Langton. The TV dramas aren’t half as good as the novels but they’re a sure-fire sign that La Plante is on to a winner with Travis and Langton. The sixth novel, Blind Fury, is just out in hardback and hopefully there'll be more on the way.

Silent Scream by Lynda La Plante. Published by Pocket Books, £7.99

Emma's rating - ****