(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

Michelle Spring’s private detective novel follows the example of Sue Grafton, whose books feature female private investigator Kinsey Millhone, rather than that of hard-boiled writers such as Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler. Spring’s writing is more “soft-boiled,” and her series’ main character, Laura Principal, a former academic turned private investigator, runs Aardvark Investigations with her professional and personal partner, Sonny Mendlowitz. Mendlowitz is in charge of the London office, while Principal runs the Cambridge branch.

In many ways, Principal is a woman of the 1990’s in that she struggles to balance her life between sleuthing and spending time with her long-time friend, librarian Helen Cochrane, and her lover Mendlowitz, who has two young sons. Principal, an intense and thorough investigator, and Cochrane are co-owners of Wildfell Cottage, a remote spot the two visit occasionally on weekends to wind down from work. She shares a flat with Mendlowitz when in London, and he frequently visits her flat in Cambridge. She plays the saxophone, exercises regularly, and is in good condition.

Laura Principal is not based on any individual nor on Spring herself. Principal is athletic, is an excellent driver, and is fairly capable of taking care of herself. Spring has carefully created an admirable female private investigator who is seldom judgmental, is unwilling to jump to conclusions, and whose generous spirit allows her to look for the good in everyone.

Every Breath You Take

Spring’s first novel, Every Breath You Take, introduces Laura Principal, who investigates the murder of art teacher Monica Harcourt, who had bought a third-part ownership of Wildfell but was bludgeoned to death before she could move in. Principal sifts through possible motivations of those who knew Harcourt and finds none. As she perceives the villain is a man who had stalked Harcourt, she understands the danger she and Cochrane are in because of their friendship with Harcourt. Harcourt was killed by an unstable man who had erroneously presumed her to be a lesbian.

Principal is a well-developed character who lures the reader in to discover her thoughts and inclinations as she conducts her investigation. Essentially an introduction to Principal, the first-person narrative provides insight into Principal’s mind, her values, and her past, particularly the protracted painful period during her father’s slow death that continues to haunt her.

The story of a stalker, Every Breath You Take progresses through Principal’s tracking and confronting suspects about histories, alibis, or secrets as she places her own life in danger through her doggedness in following clues or her instincts. Although she ferrets out suspects who appear to be the stalker/killer, the villain turns out to be an unsuspected and unknown person, with the chilling undertone being maintained until the very end.

Running for Shelter

Spring’s second novel in the series, Running for Shelter (1996), moves between the decadent, London rich and the illegal migrant workers who exist in near forced-slavery conditions. A West End producer who has hired...

(The entire section is 1325 words.)