‘Black Rain Falling’ Jacob Ross
ISBN-13: 9780751574425, £14.99 (hardback)
Jacob Ross follows up ‘The Bone Readers’ which won the inaugural Jhalak Prize for Fiction in 2017, with ‘Black Rain Falling’. Both work as stand alone novels set on the fictional Caribbean island of Camaho featuring Detective Constable and forensics expert Michael ‘Digger’ Digson.
The opening paragraph sets the scene, ‘One think I learned from my two years fighting crime in Camaho – sometimes to uphold the law, you need to break the f–king rules.
‘Five dates after I arrested a police officer for drink-driving and much worse, Miss Stanislaus, my partner in San Andrews CID, shot down Juba Hurst – the man who raped her as a child. The trouble I started was nothing compared to hers. And there was no way I was going to let her face the consequences on her own. That’s me, Michael Digger Digson. It is the way I’m wired.’
This leaves Digger with two problems and a case. The case is a murder of a local man known to ship drugs. Miss Stanislaus is charged with murder, suspended from duty and given six days to clear her name. The drink-driving police officer ran over and killed a woman orphaning two young children, and, in Camaho not only is arresting a fellow officer seen as a transgression, it’s punished no matter how serious the reason for arrest.
The punishment comes when the Justice Minister shuts down San Andrews CID where Digger works and splits the team, transferring Digger, along with his nominal boss Chief Officer Malan Greaves, to the station where the arrested police office worked.
Digger is allowed to continue working on the murder case, which triggers an investigation into Camaho’s shadowy forests and well-connected drugs traffickers who, used to the police turning a blind eye, think they can ignore the law. The higher up the trafficking hierarchy, the less blatant the law-breaking is as transactions are covered by seemingly legitimate paperwork and businesses. Digger unofficially teams up with his police partner Miss Stanislaus, breaking back into the shut office, since the station he was transferred to isn’t safe, where they’re joined by their secretary and eventually Chief Officer Greaves, if only to keep an eye on Digger, since whatever Digger does will impact his career too.
Doing what he does best, Digger continues to dig. He discovers the villagers where the murdered man lived are fearful and reluctant to speak. Some of the young men, really still only teenagers, show whip scars. Rumours surface of a man called Shadowman. Through a student, Digger discovers there could be a potential drugs factory in the forests. The student is killed before Digger locates it. A colleague in narcotics confirms and estimates the scale of production. Together they figure out the size of boat required to ship the supply out. Digger uncovers links between Shadowman and Juba Hurst and begins to suspect that Shadowman isn’t heading the operation. Someone far more powerful is. His investigation throws up more questions than answers, particularly when the criminals seem to be one step ahead of the police. When Miss Stanislaus queries the murdered man’s mother as to where the money for her new electrical kitchen gadgets came from, she finds out the mother has been paid unofficial compensation and Digger follows the money trail.
Meanwhile he’s not lost sight of the deadline in which to clear Miss Stanislaus’ name. Digger isn’t entirely without connections of his own, although the use of one might sacrifice his relationship with his girlfriend. He is not a reckless maverick, a one-man army against corruption, but a man whose respect has to be earnt and who will use his forensic knowledge and intelligent to solve a case and protect those he loves.
Miss Stanislaus is not a sidekick. Her skills, memory and ability to read people are skills that complement Digger’s. Both value the spirit of the law, although not necessarily the letter, and neither have much time for politics. The interconnectedness of those in positions of power and familial links Digger uncovers are credible on a small island. In effect Camaho becomes just as much a character as the people. Transporting the plot to say London or Miami wouldn’t work, which is why the location to ‘Black Rain Falling’ is so vital.
‘Black Rain Falling’ stands shoulder to shoulder with the prize-winning ‘The Bone Readers’ as masterclasses in crime novels where readers care as much about the detectives as the victims, where grief is raw and the characters are not mere pawns to show off the detectives’ brilliance. The overall narrative arc builds towards a gripping climax – there are chapters where the reader will not want to put the novel down – but the subplots allow space for the reader to stop and absorb events, to see the sun glinting off a boat, feel the shadows in the forest, the torrential downpour and appreciate how smoothly the subplots are woven into the main plot and how police operate with the consent of those they serve and keeping the balance of conflicting interests is delicate, underappreciated skill.