On an otherwise unremarkable night, London detective Vincent Ruiz finds himself desperately clinging to a buoy in the river Thames, bleeding out from a brutal gunshot wound to his leg. When he finally wakes up in hospital a few days later his memory of the events leading up to that night are gone. His superiors are pissed at him and all Vince knows is that something went horribly wrong. Why was he in the Thames? Why is his hospital room being guarded? And why was he carrying a picture in his pocket of Mickey Carlyle, a girl whose murder case was solved years ago?
Lost (which was also published under the title The Drowning Man) is a mixed bag. On the one hand, the plot is taut and kept me guessing for a long time. Robotham is not a bad writer, and he manages to avoid the pitfall of being dragged into increasingly complicated descriptions of the city. The plot is practically writhing like a snake, turning left and right and looping back again, but despite that I could follow it well. The author also doesn’t dwell on the protagonist’s backstory too much, which can be annoying when the reader just wants to know who did it.
On the other hand, the novel definitely has its problems. For one, I was surprised that it was published in 2014; it felt older, both in the technology involved and in the way the main detective talks. OF COURSE it has a woman-problem: Ruiz invokes the help of the token woman minority, whose entire personality seems to be a) cop and b) Indian. At least he doesn’t try to sleep with her; that’s something, I guess. The victim’s mother is simpering, the bosses are bureaucrats with comb-overs. And Ruiz himself, well, he’s an asshole. Both Ruiz and Robotham seem to realise it but I think they underestimate the degree to which he grates, though in all fairness, I don’t think he is meant to be likable.
The biggest issue I had with this novel, in fact, is just how many cop show clichés there are. It’s not just Ruiz’ bosses, who seem more interested in their ranking and numbers than in discovering the truth, but the whole book rests on them: Ruiz’ memory loss, and his desire to go at it alone; his friend Joseph O’Loughlin, who is a weak extract of more formidable characters like Sherlock Holmes and Will Graham. The villain’s little more than a caricature. It’s also overly long: it didn’t bore me but at a certain point I was a little fed up with having to process another twist. A subplot about the author’s brother was unnecessary and distracted from the main plot and O’Loughlin and the memory loss are employed a bit too conveniently for it to be anywhere near realistic (memory loss never works the way it does in novels).
Ultimately, though, it’s a pretty solid read. The genre is bound to a certain formula, so I suppose it’s hard to avoid all clichés. The plot kept me interested, even though it’s a little convoluted. It felt a little sexist to me, but also earnest, as if the author is aware of his flaws in that department. I’m not entirely convinced I’ll pick up another Robotham book, but I certainly haven’t written him off either.