Book Review: Sirens by Joseph Knox

SIRENS

Author: Joseph Knox

Publisher: Black Swan

Release Date: January 2017

After a potentially career-ending mistake, nihilistic Manchester cop Aidan Waits finds himself pressurised into participating in a murky undercover investigation on behalf of shadowy politician David Rossiter – a man whose teenage daughter, Isabelle, has shacked up with charismatic local drug-lord Zain Carver. His superiors are unconcerned about his slim prospects of survival, and Waits finds himself plunged into a hellish limbo populated by warring dealers, alluring bar girls and ruined corpses. Can he keep it together long enough to untangle the labyrinthine mystery, or is he destined to die face down in a Manchester gutter?

Manchester always feels like an underexplored noir backdrop, and Joseph Knox comprehensively redresses the balance with this rain-slick, booze-sodden, smack-ravaged depiction of a city overflowing with dark secrets. Aidan Waits isn’t a dirty cop, but he is definitely a figure tainted with the bad decisions of his past. In Sirens he finds himself mired in a dubious off-the-books investigation, where the only way to gain credibility is to play up to his tarnished reputation.

Knox’s book is seemingly more influenced by the murkier strands of US crime fiction than by the kind of standard-issue UK police procedurals that he is now sharing shelf-space with, and Sirens is an arresting debut novel that immediately marks him out as an author to watch. The tone is as bleak and brooding as the Joy Division albums that provide the book’s unofficial soundtrack, and the fully fleshed-out world that Waits inhabits is set up nicely for a series of smart, urban thrillers. Terrific stuff.

Review by Tom Leins

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Book Review: Bluebird, Bluebird by Attica Locke

BLUEBIRD, BLUEBIRD

Author: Attica Locke

Publisher: Serpent’s Tail

Release Date: September 2017

At the outset of Bluebird, Bluebird, Darren Mathews – a committed Texas Ranger with marital troubles and alcohol dependency issues – is suspended from active duty pending the conclusion of an investigation into his involvement in a violent altercation between a long-time family friend and a local racist thug. However, when a pair of bodies – a black lawyer from Chicago and a local white woman – are dragged out of the bayou in an East Texas town called Lark, Mathews puts the job he loves in jeopardy and travels up Highway 59 to investigate. In doing so, the town’s racial fault-lines are blown wide open, and all manner of uncomfortable secrets come tumbling out.

The publishing process is a long and arduous one, and I’m sure this book was completed long before Donald Trump oozed into the White House and cranked up his bile-flecked carnival barker theatrics. Nevertheless, the antagonists here feel like Trump supporters to a man – from self-satisfied local landowner Wally Jefferson, to the meth-fuelled Aryan Brotherhood members who drink in the nearby bar he owns – and the ugly racial tensions give the book a frighteningly contemporary feel.

The swaggering-but-damaged Mathews is a great conduit for the righteous anger that Locke’s book runs on: an imperfect man with perfect values, kicking over rocks in a town where he clearly isn’t welcome. Combining the personal and the political is a tough feat, and Locke makes it look easy.

The central mystery that drives the narrative of Bluebird, Bluebird is a puzzle wrapped in contradictions and contrivances, and in a lesser writer’s hands this could have diminished the story’s appeal. Locke’s easy storytelling style and rich, evocative prose means that this is never an issue, and the story is unpredictable and spiked with tension.

Locke’s excellent 2009 debut Black Water Rising was a memorable, impressive book, and Bluebird, Bluebird is every bit as good. I look forward to the sequel – and the in-development TV series that is reportedly on the cards.

Review by Tom Leins