Wednesday 26 June 2013

Book review: The Dead - Howard Linskey

I was immediately struck by the opening chapter of Howard Linskey's The Dead. The almost lyrical description of the dead girl lying on the riverbank, one arm languorously thrown back as if pointing to the stream, her hair delicately rippling in the current, reminiscent of the tragic Ophelia in Shakespeare's Hamlet ... the investigating officer being pulled out of a boring police charity black tie event, pleased for the excuse to get away early, strolling down to look upon another nameless victim ... the sheer horror as he realises it's his daughter, lets out a heart-rending howl and wades in, compromising the crime scene, as his colleagues look on, not knowing what to do. It was so well written with such a huge emotional punch that I couldn't wait to devour the rest of the book. I was therefore slightly disappointed to discover that immediately after this powerful opening scene, it segues seamlessly into just another average crime novel focusing on the underworld in a British inner city.

There's nothing wrong with the writing but it just didn't have that extra sparkle to make it stand out from the hundreds of other novels in the same genre that I've read. The plotline, focusing on Northern gangster David Blake, had great potential. While Blake is ruthless and violent when he needs to be, he still has certain morals - "honour among thieves" seems to be his guiding principle and hurting innocent kids is a line that he and his henchmen would not consider crossing - so he is horrified when he is set up as the principal and indeed only suspect. While most of the police are baying for his blood, one of the top cops gives him a chance to redeem himself - although the police chief has no finer feelings for the gangster, he doesn't believe he committed this particular crime so he tells him to use his men to uncover the real culprit, reaching out to his contacts in the underworld who would never talk to the police. I thought this was a really interesting starting point but felt that its potential wasn't fully exploited. A third of the way through the book, he's found the killer and it's on to the next problem.

And Blake certainly has more than his fair share of problems. Power-crazed Soviet gangsters, Serbian gangs wanting to muscle in on his territory, his wife trying to uncover a skeleton that he wants to keep firmly in the closet, not to mention his niggling doubts about his missing father and a few loose cannons in his criminal empire, all give him more than enough to keep him on his toes.

Blake is a hard character to define, although this is the third book in the series so reading the first two may have given me more insight. While he is innocent of the crime at the start of the book, we know that he has taken part in some equally sickening ones so it's hard to really feel sorry for him. Even when his life was in danger, I couldn't help but think that ultimately, he deserved what he got anyway and the world would probably be a better place without him. Witnessing the corruption in the police and seeing how easy it is to manipulate court cases is interesting and seeing the power play in operation between the different crime lords is almost like watching a very clever game of chess.

It's a fast-paced, interesting read but one that didn't quite live up to the poignant first chapter. While violent, I was pleased to see that it doesn't go into sickeningly graphic detail. I could see this being made into a cracking TV series reminiscent of The Sopranos.

star rating : 4/5

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: No Exit Press (25 April 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1842439626
  • ISBN-13: 978-1842439623

RRP : £7.99

Disclosure : I received a review copy of the book.

Other reviews you may be interested in :

Book review : The Mannequin House - R.N. Morris

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