Written by Allison Bruce — Nadine is walking home with her boyfriend after a gig she has played in Cambridge. They head to Theo’s, a big, unfinished, creaky house he inherited from his father. The place is dark and they go to bed, but soon the house is engulfed in flames.
The book then jumps 22 years forwards, and we meet Amy Laurence. Her father Robert Buckingham has just suffered a cardiac episode and is rushed to the hospital. Amy is at his side. Her parents are divorced but her mother comes through at this time of need to the bedside of her ex-husband.
During this reunion, the topic of Robert’s 22-year prison term comes up. He swears his innocence in the death of those burned in the fire and floats the idea that information exists that could clear his name. When he asks his daughter to believe he is not guilty, Amy’s response is to try and find out the truth on his behalf.
Cambridge Black is the seventh book in Allison Bruce’s DC Gary Goodhew series. The author runs parallel plot lines in this book that is about the mysteries and secrets families hold, and how we must come to terms with the past in order to make sense of the here and now.
Amy moves closer to the case by getting a temp job for Neil Frampton, a friend of her parents’ and ex-business partner of her father’s who might offer a clue as to her father’s innocence. Frampton is skeptical at first but soon takes her on to do clerical work. Though essential to the plot, Amy so easily lands the job with Frampton that it seems a little forced.
Just as Amy is looking to exonerate her father, detective Goodhew wants to solve a cold case concerning his grandfather. Goodhew’s grandparents have an interesting and complicated backstory that adds to the mystery at play. His grandfather ended up dead and after all this time Goodhew is looking to find out what happened.
The plot is further complicated when a woman ends up dead who might have ties to Amy. Goodhew is put on the case and this is how they cross paths. The introduction of this third and interconnected crime ups the narrative tension which is how Bruce pushes the story along. But when Goodhew shows up on the job too many things seem to fall into place and the seams of this story really start to show.
The book drags and drifts in and out of scenes with the author relying a bit to heavily on us to turn a blind eye to the coincidences she uses to keep everything moving. Bruce is a skilled enough writer that the words on the page are compelling, but the story is messy when it is not predictable and this weakens the overall effort.
Cambridge Black does pick up as Goodhew pushes towards solving the crime of the recently murdered woman. The emotional and intertwined familial drama at the core of the book is its best feature. The conversations and piecing together done by Goodhew, as well as Amy’s work at solving her father’s mystery, are compelling and interesting as long as you are in the emotions and backstory of the people involved. This is decent addition for fans of the series, but those unfamiliar with it will have trouble getting into it.
CFL Rating: 3 Stars