Since I am reading crime lately, I read this novel sometime last week. It is a police procedural crime novel that is self-published/ small-print/ print-on-demand. No, I had never read the author before and it was a total random pull. A Matter of Motive by Margot Kinberg was first released in 2020 and is the first in the Patricia Stanley series (of which, this is the only book so far). My review of this novel needs to apply all of the self-imposed structure that I felt necessary to explain (poorly) in the previous review. That is to say, this novel is not from a major publishing house and and I want to speak as utterly plainly as I can about it.
The novel is a police procedural. The death occurs within the first five pages or so. Ron Clemons is driving in his car to work and he is overcome by pain and has to pull over into a lot and he expires. We meet our detective team as the tow truck is there beside the dark blue Infinity on Lancaster Avenue in Paoli, Pennsylvania. Patricia and Luke are the police on the scene; they are members of the Malvern Police Department.
Really Paoli boasts a population of about 6,000. It is a small location on the western outskirts of Philly. Its a small skip from Kay-Oh-Pee (King of Prussia) if you have a referent for that. I’m fairly comfortable with this area – from Reading down to Lancaster – though I have actually never been to Valley Forge. (I have zero interest in Americana). Does Malvern actually have a separate police station/department? I sure don’t know. The two police officers assigned to this case are young and young cops.
First problem with the novel – exactitude of the police ranks. So, if it was actually fully stated and I missed it, I guess I will owe the author an apology. But I really do not recall a clear and defined statement of these two cops. So, we do learn this is their first murder case. In the first few pages, Luke feels the need to mention the police academy. I have no idea should I call them officers or detectives? Or? Because its not entirely clear from the novel. And then if they are BOTH new hires/promotions, well, most locations of 6,000 residents are not going to be hiring at that level. I mean, the mention of the Academy – who would even mention that except a young cop? And yes, its perfectly fine to be a young cop, but is it fine to be a young cop and a detective?
The inexperience of the cops plays a rôle throughout the novel. Patricia and Luke make some “small errors” and their boss scolds them, but also tries to guide them to correct procedure. Definitely, there is a sense that both cops are hard-working and in their eagerness, make errors in judgment.
Second problem with the novel – inexperienced cops versus juvenile rendering. So, its reasonable to have inexperienced cops. Indeed, I like that about this novel. I am somewhat bored of the trope in novels that uses the grizzled, ornery cop on the verge of retirement that bends the rules at times. Enough of every cop being the veteran expert. Its refreshing to read a novel that has younger cops learning the ropes. However, the balance between inexperienced and clueless was not achieved in this work. We have detectives/cops making errors – to be expected, but errors that if they had spent a moment in a police academy or taken a class in criminal justice, they would not make. So, I applaud the idea of using inexperienced cops, but this needed to be more polished in execution.
Third problem with the novel – this is a police procedural. In essence, this has come to refer to any fiction work that focuses on the procedure and steps that the police take in order to solve crimes. Certainly, in such a novel, the reader expects to be a passive “ride-along” with the cops and follow the case as the cops discover information. However, the procedure these cops use is a bit underdeveloped. It goes like this: interview people, go back to cop shop and tell boss. Boss tells cops to go interview more people. Repeat. And repeat again. And with one particular character (the wife of the deceased) they practically torture this woman; not a day goes by that they aren’t on her doorstep. What’s worse is that they go there, ask two or three questions, and then leave. I mean, this is partially tied into that “inexperienced cop” situation. However, even the dullest blades in the drawer would make better use of their detecting.
Here are some things that this novel does really well: the thoughts and feelings of the deceased’s wife, Rachel Clemons. The author really wrote this character well and by “well” I mean very authentically. I feel like this character is utterly realistic and believeable. Similarly, the tension between some of the characters at the business where the main character worked is done really well. In fact, for the most part, characters are authentic and understood. It does not surprise me that the whole of this novel is based on “motive.” The author is skilled at people. There is even a subplot of Patricia’s relationship drama – I do not give a rip about that storyline, but that is not to say that others might not like this sort of thing. I just do not care about romance/relationship subplots and drama, so I am not going to assess whether its well written or not.
After the halfway point, the reader is lured into really disliking a couple of characters. This is more of the skill the author has with working with “people-ization.” Just because a character might be very dislikeable, does not necessarily mean they are the murderer. And sometimes intentions, some good and some bad, cannot be forced to match a crime.
I enjoyed the book, though I did get tired of going round and round re-interviewing the same people with these cops. I really liked the feeling that Patricia and Luke make errors, but are super keen to grow from them and not repeat them. Self-corrective and productive. A lot of the time, I feel like authors make very stubborn characters that even though they know better or are capable of improvement, just repeatedly do the same dumb things.
Overall, a light-read, nothing that is deeply intellectual or that will require strenuous effort. The author has a lot of skill with characters and people. But the author needs more of the knowledge of the profession/roles of the law enforcement profession. Since I finished this one, I am 50/50 on whether I would read another in the series or not.