An ambitious young actress working in the sleazy outer margins of the film industry is found dead in Glasgow. Could it be just a coincidence that her father was also a murder victim, years earlier? Detective Inspectors Kat Wheeler and Steven Ross are called in to investigate. Their efforts to understand the victim and follow the trail of her life bring them into contact with a large cast of characters who might or might not have had anything to do with her death. There's the wedding photographer who funds his drug habit through a sideline making adult films. There are the denizens of the pub near where the body was found, one of the less salubrious watering holes in Glasgow and known for being a haunt of bike gangs: and no stranger to violence in the past. There's the life coach whose extreme tastes in personal relationships has led him to being dumped by a series of short-term girlfriends. There's the rock star, a member of one of the biggest bands to have come out of Glasgow for years, and a man with his own distinct set of desires. And then there are those running a highly secretive club, catering to the tastes of some of the "great and good", or at least the wealthy and publicity-shy, of Glasgow, where the actress sometimes worked.
"Torn" by Anne Randall tells the story of the murder hunt over no fewer than 68 quick-fire chapters in just under 400 pages. The story is built by means of a series of glimpses, a series of scenes, told from the perspective of any of a large number of characters who vie for attention. We keep returning to Inspector Kat Wheeler's pursuit of her investigation, but we also see incidents unfold from the point of view of all of those mentioned in the previous paragraph, plus a number of others. The overall impression is like a patchwork quilt or a mosaic. Stay too close and it's impossible to see what's going on, but as you draw out a little, and as the sum total of the available pieces expands, the overall picture starts to emerge. It's an approach to storytelling that works very well, and one that allows the author to provide her readers with just enough information to keep them engaged and turning the page, but never so much as to spoil the various twists and turns that guard the path to a satisfying and convincing conclusion.
We've seen it said that the phrase "all human life is here" was coined by a Sunday newspaper that tried a little too hard to uncover the secrets of some of those it wrote about, and as a result is no more. It's certainly a phrase that could be applied to "Torn". It's an enjoyable read and a story well told, but it does bring the reader face-to-face with corners of the envelope of human behaviour that some may find unexpected or distasteful, though others not.