The Poisoned Rock by Robert Daws

This is an assured and polished piece of work by a very competent writer who is a master of the genre. Robert Daws has such an intimate knowledge of ‘the Rock’ and a number of venues in Southern Spain that he is able almost effortlessly to gain credibility for his narrative with a wealth of incidental detail – streets, key buildings, cafes, squares, alleys … The story is satisfyingly complex, involving not only the minutiae of a modern-day police investigation into a number of murders but also weaving in the strategic importance of Gibraltar, its history and culture and the murky world of espionage during and following WW2. The clues are there, artfully placed, and the story unfolds at just the right pace.

I especially appreciated the way in which the author used perceptive descriptive detail to develop our knowledge and understanding of each of the characters without ever slowing the pace of the narrative: “The old man poured the fine Rioja into two sparkling glasses, his steady hand and his eye for a generous measure belying his age and frailty”. That’s the way to do it! The short chapters move the story along at a clip. The medical and forensic detail are well-researched: “Petechial haemorrhages were also present in Martinez, indicating asphyxiation as the principal cause of death.” The reader is more than willing to take the author’s word for it! There are strong images that deepen our sense of the evil that has been and is being perpetrated: “The clatter from the cobble-stoned street below and the hubbub from the café on the opposite corner seemed to violate the room.” A dry sense of humour pervades the narrative: “’Possibly the most painful thing I have ever experienced, Sullivan. And I’ve given birth to two children,’ the chief super replied. ‘But thanks for your concern’.”

There are a few minor slip-ups on the foreign language front that the author will want swiftly to correct: “Buenos noches” instead of “Buenas noches”, “Liguine al frutti di mare” instead of “Linguine ai frutti di mare”, “aqua sin gas” instead of “agua sin gas”, and “Miquel Columbus” instead of “Miguel Columbus” – incidental details that can easily be taken care of. Overall, this was a relaxing and enjoyable read. I congratulate the author on a sound and skilful piece of work.