You are a police officer. This is what you do. You speak for the dead, and the desperate living.
When Anna Cameron is promoted to Chief Inspector and moved to a new division, it should be a turning point for her. But if she thought having a female boss would make things easier, she’d reckoned without the fearsome ‘JC’ Hamilton.
Then her mother goes into a coma in a foreign country and an old woman disappears from a Glasgow care home under suspicious circumstances, and Anna’s career and personal life both threaten to implode. The gang-related murder of a young Asian boy and an assault on one of her officers only serve to turn the screws tighter – can Anna be both a good cop and a good person?
Shadowplay : Reviews
The Scotsman (23/05/10)
THERE’S a lot to be said for writing about what you know. And what Karen Campbell knows better than anything else is Glasgow policing. The author of three novels in as many years, Campbell has established herself as the new face in the Scottish crime-writing scene, and with the many talented faces of tartan noir lurking in the shadows, it’s not an easy set to break into.
Before she took the plunge into the literary unknown, Campbell was a police officer in Glasgow, something that shows in every aspect of her writing. But, significantly, what she writes are most definitely not straight crime novels. There are very few clues to seek out and follow, relatively few moments of palpable fear, and no real sense that finding out who the perpetrators are is the force driving the reading. Although it is absolutely what drives the team of cops she writes about.
Actually, Shadowplay could quite easily stand outside the crime fiction genre. This might seem unlikely when it is explained that the plot involves an elderly woman who has gone missing from a nursing home, a young Asian boy who has been murdered by a gang, and an assault on a police officer. Given all that, its categorisation as “crime” was rather inevitable. But it does not have that simplistic drive towards a neat, all-questions-answered conclusion that is so prevalent in much crime writing, where pace is kept up, but at the cost of so many other ingredients.
As with Campbell’s first two novels, Anna Cameron is our female police officer protagonist. She’s newly promoted, and has been moved to a new division. But the change is far from the fresh start she’d envisaged, and with a witch of a new boss making her working life a misery, and her mother suddenly gravely ill in Spain, Anna has more to contend with than finding out where the office biscuits are kept. Her life is a mess; she is a mess. And with the disappearance of Cassandra Maguire and the murder of Sabir Aziz both sparking major investigations, she has no time to be anything other than the consummate professional.
And this is what Campbell’s fine, accomplished novel is really about: a woman battling to be all things to all people, balancing her personal and professional lives, while trying to retain her sanity. Readers of the previous book, After The Fire, will recognise this juxtaposition of roles from the character of Cath Worth, who, quite apart from dealing with the torment her firearms officer husband is suffering after shooting a young girl dead, is also trying to come to terms with leaving the force, and her new role as a stay-at-home mother.
The characterisation in this third novel is impeccable. It takes a lot of skill to ensure that Anna Cameron doesn’t slip into the realm of the clichéd “woman fighting to survive in a man’s world”. But the novel’s success hinges on much more than this. What Cameron also manages to do is perfectly characterise a city that is unmistakably, unflinchingly Glasgow – one that is dark enough for the crimes to seem utterly plausible, but also where a confident swagger, often cruel bluntness and irrepressible humour cut the tension.
Even the descriptions of areas of the city are pitch perfect, with Govan “a burgh, a town in its own right that had been eaten up by Glasgow, the bones picked clean, discarded on the south bank of the Clyde until the city decided it was hungry again.” An area of “the occasional stranded restaurant” where “shipyard workers and philanthropists … bequeathed parks and libraries and hope to the poor”. These are not just descriptions within which to frame a convincing, compelling crime novel, but ones deftly drawn by a true literary talent.
There are always rumblings in the world of books about the Glasgow University creative writing programme, and concerns over just how many of Scotland’s fresh voices spring from it. Too much of a good thing, say some; producing formulaic works, mutter others. Undoubtedly, there will be unoriginal, painting-by-numbers writers there, as everywhere.
But Campbell is certainly not one of them. When her debut The Twilight Time was published in 2008, she was heralded as a major new talent with huge potential. What she has done in Shadowplay is prove that that assessment was absolutely on the money.
The Times (12/06/10)
Karen Campbell deserves to be admitted to membership of what’s becoming a very large club – Scottish writers of excellence. In Shadowplay, her third and best book, her cop heroine Anna Cameron is promoted to chief inspector and sent to a Glasgow division dominated by a harridan superintendent. There she does her sometimes inadequate best to solve an array of crimes while trying to deal with the sexism she faces and cope with her unsatisfactory personal and family life. As to be expected from a former police officer, Campbell portrays her former milieu with harsh authenticity, and Anna Cameron is wholly believable in her unheroic role. Glasgow and its citizens are described with vivid passion.
Daily Record (05/10)
Transferred from Easterhouse to Giffnock, tough-talking Anna Cameron has no time to bask in the glory of her promotion.
Just days into her new role of chief inspector, Anna witnesses the murder of a gang member, an elderly lady disappears from a local nursing home and there’s a top quality batch of counterfeit notes in circulation. Add a sick mother to the mix, and the stakes in DCI Cameron’s life are higher than ever. Karen Campbell’s ex-career in the cops has never been more evident. Meticulously detailed and brutally authentic, this could only have come from a writer who has been there, done it and banged up the bad guys.
SHE Magazine (Great Reads) (05/10)
Compelling. A murdered Asian teenager; an elderly resident missing from a care home – two cases that test newly promoted Chief Inspector Anna Cameron to the limit. Fast paced and hard hitting.