Book Review: These Darkening Days by Benjamin Myers

THESE DARKENING DAYS

Author: Benjamin Myers

Publisher: Moth Publishing

Release Date: September 2017

These Darkening Days – the sequel to the acclaimed Turning Blue – finds local journalist Roddy Mace living on a houseboat and battling his alcoholic demons, while struggling to make progress with a true crime book (based on the grisly case depicted in Myers’ previous novel). Mace’s subdued routine is disrupted when a middle-aged woman is savagely attacked by a mystery assailant and left for dead in an alleyway.

As the local police force struggles to locate any worthwhile leads, the victim’s colourful past – she was an amateur porn star – sparks an unseemly tabloid frenzy in the small Pennine valley town. When further attacks occur, the unusual case piques the interest of a bored Detective James Brindle – currently on enforced leave from the enigmatic ‘Cold Storage’ unit – who decides the time is right to renew his uneasy acquaintanceship with Mace.

Last year I described Turning Blue as ‘easily one of the best British crime novels that I have read in the last decade’ – an assessment I stand by – so, it was with a degree of trepidation that I approached the follow-up. Myers is too smart to traipse over old ground, and this sequel is a sneaky whodunnit which offers a number of parallels to the earlier book – before yanking the story in a completely different direction.

Myers continues to play to his strengths: rural Psychogeography, queasy observational details and unflinching character studies of small-town misfits, but the crushing dread of the earlier book has been dialled down a couple of notches, and alleviated with lashings of dark humour – much of it relating to tabloid exploitation and vigilante justice.

These Darkening Days may lack some of the raw power of its predecessor, but it’s a terrific read, and a well-judged follow-up to a contemporary classic.

Review by Tom Leins

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Book Review: Turning Blue by Benjamin Myers

TURNING BLUE

Author: Benjamin Myers

Publisher: Moth Publishing

Release Date: August 2016

When a teenage girl goes missing on the Yorkshire Dales at Christmas, precocious, obsessive DS James Brindle from the police’s elite Cold Storage unit is dispatched to the frozen moorland community to investigate. The case, which involves the daughter of local businessman Ray Muncy, also piques the interest of local journalist Roddy Mace, who has returned home after burning out in London. As the missing girl’s trail goes cold, both men find themselves drawn to Steven Rutter, an apparently harmless loner who is harbouring a lifetime of dark secrets. Mace’s local knowledge is able to cast new light on the close-knit village and its inhabitants – many of whom are nursing their own foetid connections to the area’s sleazy underbelly.

The proliferation of rural British police procedurals may seem suffocating at times, but Turning Blue is an entirely different beast: it’s like a Peter Robinson novel as re-imagined by Dennis Cooper! From the come-stained horror-show of the Odeon X adult cinema, to the destitute Rutter farmyard, the sense of location is brought queasily to life throughout. Hellishly bleak background details are casually scattered throughout the book like chicken feed, and Brindle and Mace’s investigation unfolds in appropriately stomach-churning fashion.

If you enjoyed David Peace’s excellent Red Riding series then Turning Blue should jump right to the top of your reading list, as the two authors explore similarly bleak versions of the North, albeit decades apart. Another useful point of comparison is the work of Gordon Burn (Myers won the 2013 Gordon Burn prize for his novel Pig Iron). Indeed, his savage dissection of fictional Jimmy Savile-esque Saturday night light entertainer ‘Lovely Larry’ Lister recalls Burn at his darkest.

Grim, gripping and grotesque, Turning Blue is an outstanding book, and easily one of the best British crime novels that I have read in the last decade.

Review by Tom Leins