Head Case

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Anna Lee is a young and unmarried former policewoman now working for a stodgy British detective agency. She locates the missing Thea Hahn, but the girl is terrified and incoherent. Her ravings indicate she has been leading a double life and has been traumatized by her involvement in a gruesome murder. Lee is ordered to investigate the girl’s recent past. If Thea is guilty, it is the agency’s duty to try to uncover extenuating circumstances or to buttress an insanity plea. The quest brings Lee into contact with many different types of people in London and its environs.

There seems little doubt that Thea spent several days in a Southampton hotel with her middle-aged tutor, who was killed with a Luger pistol. Lee is handicapped because the one person who could tell her the whole truth--Thea Hahn--is either insane or doing a brilliant job of faking it.

One of the many interesting features of HEAD CASE is that it is an “American-style” detective novel with a British cast of characters. The loosely-jointed American private-eye novel, which had a big impact on British popular literature via Raymond Chandler, features action and happenstance rather than clues and ratiocination. It is more realistic and allows the author greater scope in depicting characters in their environment.

Liza Cody’s talents are well suited to this transplanted subgenre. She has a sensitive style, and her dialogue is particularly sharp; it is amusing to note the many Americanisms (“shrink,” “brownie points,” “fuzz,” “dropout”) creeping into the British vernacular. The plotting shows intelligence and conscientious craftsmanship; it is light on violence and strong on human interaction. The likable heroine, who has appeared in two earlier works, manages to be gutsy and feminine at the same time.