MILLER AND XIU: A SERIOUSLY ODD COUPLE
A decent double act is an essential component of so many timeless crime series. Just think about Holmes and Watson, Morse and Lewis…Little and Large. OK, so that last pair weren’t actually central to any crime novels, but come on, they would have been amazing! While DS Declan Miller is certainly the main character in The Last Dance and its follow-up, his partner in crime-solving DS Sara Xiu is much more than a sidekick. In fact, were Miller ever to refer to her as his sidekick, he’d be in serious trouble. She’d get that tell-tale twitch under her right eye and growl quietly and Miller would know it was time to run.
To run away fast…
The Last Dance is about the investigation into a very strange double murder in a Blackpool hotel. It’s also about one man’s idiosyncratic methods of coping with grief and there’s gangsters and drag queens and a man with a very strange head and all sorts of stuff about ballroom dancing…but at the heart of the story is the up-and-down relationship between two mismatched detectives. Miller and Xiu get to know one another, like it or not, so in advance of the book itself, here’s a chance for you to get to know a little about them through a couple of thumbnail sketches.
Declan Miller lives alone following the murder of his wife Alex three months before the book starts. Alone, that is, save for the companionship of his beloved pet rats Fred and Ginger and the callers on phone-in radio, with whom he engages in full-blown and often abusive conversations. He is a man who sometimes does things that many would consider ill-advised (like going back to work way too early) and says things that almost everyone would say were downright stupid/inappropriate/offensive. He has a butterfly mind (if you’re being generous) or is easily distracted (if you’re not, which probably means you’re working with him).
He’s not your run-of-the-mill copper.
Miller’s best friend Imran is a local park-keeper, but he is also close to the members of his ballroom dancing group; a disparate group of which he and Alex were the stars before her untimely death. Once a week he dances and then afterwards in the pub, over a pint and a bag of pork scratchings, he discusses whatever case he’s working on with his fellow ballroom enthusiasts: two retired coppers; a couple who run a local florist; a company secretary and a young computer nerd. If Miller was Sherlock Holmes (and that would never happen, because he’d think the hat was stupid) Howard, Mary, Nathan and the rest are his Baker Street Irregulars.
And they are most definitely irregular…
I think it’s probably best if you get to know Miller and decide what he’s like yourselves, but just for reference…
He likes: Rats. Riding on his friend Imran’s big mower. The Beatles.
He dislikes: Pan-pipes, caravans, baked beans in a ramekin, idiots who say they don’t like the Beatles, electric scooters, non-electric scooters, that opera singer in the Go Compare adverts, anyone at a call centre who says ‘yourself’ when they mean ‘you’, and people who put little dogs in pushchairs.
After a few unhappy years working for the Met (she never worked with Tom Thorne, even if that might explain it) Sara Xiu has transferred to the Lancashire constabulary where she finds herself paired up with Declan Miller who immediately nicknames her ‘Posh’. All will be explained in the book and no, she isn’t even remotely posh.
Sara Xiu is of Chinese descent and, as a young Asian woman in the police force who has dealt with just about every ism in the book, she is not a woman to be messed with. She is a meticulous and dogged detective who is prepared for just about anything.
Except Declan Miller…
It appears (to Miller at least) that Xiu doesn’t ‘do jokes’. It might be of course that she just doesn’t do his, but either way their working relationship is not exactly harmonious, to begin with at any rate. You wouldn’t expect anything else though, right? But in the same way that Miller’s talent for upsetting people masks a deep reservoir of compassion and empathy, Xiu is a long way from being as straitlaced as she appears. She could not be further from it, in fact, but you’ll have to read the book to discover what Sara Xiu gets up to once a week in a room above the King’s Head.
She likes: Motorbikes.
She dislikes: Rats.
I think that’s enough to be getting on with. I am thoroughly enjoying writing about Miller and Xiu and I think that’s a good sign. I hope you enjoy reading about them and start rooting for them every bit as much as I do.
I have plenty more adventures lined up for Ratman and Posh.