Graham Hurley began writing his fictional series about policing in Portsmouth after months of observing the actual officers. He realised that these guys, along with the silent armies of paramedics, firemen, and – would you believe – teachers, were prime witnesses of a very different kind of drama. Call by call, job by job, especially in a city as intimate and tribal as Portsmouth, they were watching a society tearing itself apart.
A dozen books and nearly a million words later, Hurley’s readers have watched the tragic destruction, not only of any semblance of civilisation but also of the characters through whom the story has been told. This final volume begins with the hero’s suicide and funeral, and continues with the break-up of the well-known gangs and groups. Their place will be filled pretty fast, for Hurley has shown what urban society is like today. It’s not a pretty picture, nor is this a comforting read.
It might be better to read this novel without knowing anything about the literature on which it’s based. Standing alone, it is a beautifully written and atmospheric addition to the large number of thrillers set in the London underworld of the nineteenth century. However, the book reanimates characters from Bleak House alongside cameo appearances from other books by Dickens and Wilkie Collins’s The Woman in White. Shepherd has perfectly caught each tone of voice, ranging from the lawyer Tulkinghorn to Esther Summerson and Inspector Bucket, and describes the horrors of nineteenth-century slums more candidly than Victorian novelists ever could. Spotting the literary references adds another layer of enjoyment to what is already an absorbing story.
Genevieve is a clever, self-reliant loner who has spent a year doing up the derelict barge she lives on. The story opens with her boat-warming party, but finding the body of one of her few close friends washed up beside the barge makes her realise that the past is catching up with her. In alternate sections Genevieve describes life in a small boatyard doing the hard labour of scraping, painting and other restoration, and her former life in London, working as a sales executive by day and pole dancing by night in a club owned by a criminal. Now Genevieve faces a threat she doesn’t understand and doesn’t know how to avert, and is involved with two men, one a cop and one a robber, neither of whom can protect her. But everything comes out right in the end and this cross between a Mills & Boon and a traditional thriller closes on a kiss.
In an era of risk assessment, equal opportunities and box ticking there is not much room left for a traditional secret agent. Charles, who was one, finds himself not just sidelined but arrested on charges of breaching the Official Secrets Act. He knows that his enemy is the agency’s new head, the husband of Charles’s former girlfriend. But why? And why now? Elegantly written, low-key and more interesting than involving, Alan Judd’s persuasive portraits of these secret agents reminds one that however brave and resourceful they may be, a lifetime of deceiving others and restraining themselves has deformed if not corrupted all of them.
An obscure solicitor finds himself landed with defending a twelve-year-old who has murdered a girl of his own age. This high-profile, morally challenging case would be difficult enough to handle in normal circumstances but Leo and his family find themselves the targets of hostile public hysteria. Leo perseveres because this case represents his chance to do something worthwhile. But it is his wife and his daughter who suffer for his actions. The book is horrifying, diverting and powerful but the plot is too discursive, and one can feel very little sympathy for a hero who is so insensitive to his own family’s needs and feelings.
In this latest dispatch from a murderous Exmoor village, a number of children left in parked cars are kidnapped. The notes left behind say, ‘You don’t love him/her/them’. Characters from Bauer’s previous books reappear: DI Reynolds, preoccupied by his dubious hair transplant but keen to make up for not catching the killer in the previous book in the series; the local bobby, back on duty after his wife’s death; and Steven, now seventeen, infatuated with the daughter of a wealthy landowner and suspicious of the police. A benighted village in a beautiful setting, the tensions between rich and poor, locals and settlers, old money and new – all of it is cleverly portrayed. Bauer writes with elegance and humour. ‘It’s all gone Chicago out there’ is the official response to soaring rates of garden-shed theft. But the real crime is utterly disgusting, its solution implausible, and the set-up incomprehensible if you haven’t read the previous two books.
Ex-CIA agent Kate moves with computer boffin Dexter and their child to Luxembourg. She is determined to restart her life in Europe and become a different kind of person: no longer a killer operative who lives a lie – her husband has no idea what her work really was – but an ordinary wife. Kate’s plan does not work out because Dexter and their new expat friends all start behaving so suspiciously that Kate feels forced to use her old skills and contacts to find out what is going on and make it stop. Somehow she has to avoid the consequences of her own illicit actions in earlier days, and if that means going back to a job she thought was finished, it’s a price worth paying. On reflection, the story is unconvincing and slightly silly but I was gripped by it nonetheless.
If even I know how foolish it is to keep your whole life on your iPhone, it’s impossible to believe that the heroic Harry Jones of the previous books in this series would ever be so idiotic. So I couldn’t take much interest in his vicissitudes as he finds himself set-up, bankrupted and tortured by an enemy kindly enabled to follow his every move. Disappointing.
A novel by a historian set in Victorian Spitalfields. A series of young women have become victims of a murderer with a knife. Clever and informative, but continuous timeshifts and changes of viewpoint are a deterrent, making the story too difficult to follow.