A week after finishing Eeny Meeny, MJ Arlidge's debut procedural featuring Southampton detective Helen Grace, I'm still not sure quite what to make of it.
At times I was totally gripped and couldn't put the book down as it raced through its high speed plot with tension and mystery and some searing, terrifying scenes featuring well-drawn characters pushed right to the edge of their physical and mental limits.
Equally, however, there were at least two occasions on which I wanted to hurl the book at the wall as the plot tooks turns so utterly preposterous that they defied credibility and almost undermined the whole enterprise.
Penguin's back cover promised, "a fast-paced British thriller in the tradition of James Patterson", and Arlidge duly delivered. Eeny Meeny features short, snappy chapters that drive the story forward relentlessly in a fashion that Patterson's fans - in whose number I do not count myself - will recognise. At times, however, Arlidge - a television producer - seemed to be trying to cram just too much into his plot and threatened to crush the story under its own weight.
The plot itself was ingenious in its conception and well executed. A young couple wake up confined in an abandoned swimming pool there is no escape from with nothing but a gun and a mobile phone. A voice on the one message the phone has the charge to deliver tells the couple that there will be no escape until one of them dies.
The crime, investigated by the tough DI Grace, is repeated on a number of occasions and it is when the two people engaged are locked into their private struggle that this book is at its strongest. Arlidge's depiction of the physical and psychological deterioration each undergoes as they grapple with an impossible choice is utterly compelling, even if horribly gruesome.
Not quite so convincing is the investigation side of the story. Grace (haven't we heard that name before on the south coast?) is a complicated and difficult character - nothing unusual there in modern fictional detectives - but Arlidge never quite defines her fully, which is a pity as she has series potential but falls just short of carrying this story convincingly. It is in her interaction with one subordinate and one superior that the story very nearly loses its way as the plot takes turns that feel first out of place and unrealistic and second entirely unnecessary given the terrific premise and story already running.
Despite this there was enough in the story to keep me going to the end and perhaps just enough to make me want to go back should a second book in the series emerge. Should it do so I hope Arlidge will just temper his inner Patterson enough not to over-heat his story, because like Grace he has a lot of potential.
The second book in the series - Pop Goes the Weasel - lived up to that promise: my review.