Watch Her Disappear is the fourth book in Eva Dolan’s Zigic and Ferreira series. I’ve loved all three previous books and found Dolan to explore sensitive, politically charged subjects in interesting and, ultimately, sensitive ways. Watch Her Disappear is no different in that Dolan’s starting point is the murder of a trans woman. The number of trans women murdered each year has increased significantly in the last five years, a disproportionate number of these women are women of colour, and many are then misgendered in media reports following their death.
At the beginning of Watch Her Disappear, Corrine Sawyer is out for her morning run when she’s pushed from behind into the ground, dragged into the trees and strangled with the cord of her headphones.
‘You get why this needs to be in Hate Crimes, right?’ Adams said, slightly less aggressively now. ‘A murdered trans woman, we can’t have any mistakes. Someone makes a stupid slip of the tongue and we’re going to be accused of prejudice against the LGBTQ community. How’s that going to look?’
When the body’s first discovered, the police don’t know whether the murder is connected to a series of sexual attacks on joggers. The attacks have all taken place on cis women but the police can’t rule out the possibility that this is the same perpetrator. Equally, they could be looking for someone who’s targeting trans women who either hasn’t been active in their area previously or has carried out attacks that have gone unreported. These possibilities mean that while the investigation is given to Zigic and Ferreira, a member of CID, Colleen Murray, is assigned to work with them.
While potential suspects stack up and tensions between the Hate Crimes Unit and CID run high, Dolan explores a number of issues effecting trans women: unreported attacks; the support – or lack of – from family and friends, particularly spouses and children; passing and the cost of doing so or not doing so, both financially and psychologically, and treatment by the police. The latter forms a significant part of the novel, as you might expect, but Dolan also uses it to explore societal attitudes to trans women, confronting some unpalatable transphobic views.
‘Right, your man down at Ferry Meadows,’ Riggott said, taking an e-cigarette from his shirt pocket. ‘What’s the story?’
‘It was a woman. Didn’t Adams brief you already?’
Riggott rolls his eyes. ‘I know how he was dressed and I realise you’re a stickler for notions of political correctness but unless he was legally declared female – which I gather he’d not been – then you’re dealing with a man who happened to be wearing ladies’ clothing.’
‘Corinne Sawyer was transitioning,’ Zigic said firmly, knowing better than to give ground at this early stage. ‘She was living as a woman full-time. Her friends and family knew her as a woman and her killer attacked her as a woman. I think that’s more significant than the state of her genitalia.’
While this repeatedly makes for uncomfortable reading, Dolan seamlessly incorporates education around trans issues into a page-turning plot. (There is, however, an inconsistency in the writing where on at least one occasion the words trans woman have been run together as one.)
The nature of the case also forces Zigic and Ferreira to step up. CID are on their territory; Zigic’s superior DCS Riggott is a bigot (now I’m wondering whether that name choice was a deliberate bit of rhyming), and the trans community are – quite rightly – wary of the police. An incident during the investigation leads to Ferreira having a Jack Bauer moment and going rogue. If you’ve read any of the previous books in the series, you’ll know that Ferreria going rogue can only be spectacular. She’s also got other issues stemming from the fact she’s sleeping with her superior, DCI Adams, on the quiet. It’s in this book that Ferreria becomes more forceful than ever before; she’s moved out of her family’s pub and it’s not just her living situation that’s become more independent.
Watch Her Disappear is a well-considered look at the violence and societal stigma trans women face. More than ever in this book, Dolan sets out to educate her audience while maintaining a gripping plot throughout. Her brand of social issues crime is timely and well-researched. Another Zigic and Ferreira success.
Thanks to Harvill Secker for the review copy.