Trevor Wood- The Man On The Street

It started with a splash. Jimmy, a homeless veteran grappling with PTSD, did his best to pretend he hadn’t heard it – the sound of something heavy falling into the Tyne at the height of an argument between two men on the riverbank. Not his fight. Then he sees the headline: GIRL IN MISSING DAD PLEA. The girl, Carrie, reminds him of someone he lost, and this makes his mind up: it’s time to stop hiding from his past. But telling Carrie, what he heard – or thought he heard – turns out to be just the beginning of the story. The police don’t believe him, but Carrie is adamant that something awful has happened to her dad and Jimmy agrees to help her, putting himself at risk from enemies old and new. But Jimmy has one big advantage: when you’ve got nothing, you’ve got nothing to lose…

There is little that gladdens the heart more than encountering a debut novel that absolutely strikes a chord with you as a reader, but also promises that you have discovered an author that will probably remain a firm favourite for years to come. With The Man On The Street, Trevor Wood has achieved just that, with a crime novel that is both compelling and unerringly perceptive…

Up to this point I had only read crime novels that if a homeless person appeared in them, it was always as a periphery character, either as a witness to a crime or as a snout, an occasional source of information to the main investigator. What Wood does is put the character of Jimmy front and centre, a homeless man, deeply scarred emotionally and haunted by his military service in the Falklands, as his main protagonist. Rarely, have I read such a well-formed and utterly believable character, and felt such a deep-seated compassion and empathy as a result of this. Accompanied by his constant companion Dog, Jimmy drifts through the city with a cloak of invisibility, trying to keep anonymous and to not attract the attentions of those who derive pleasure from meting out violence on the homeless community. Estranged from his wife and daughter, Jimmy is obviously suffering from PTSD, tormented by nightmares, and with events from the war being triggered by sensory factors like sound or smell. As he unwittingly becomes involved in a murder investigation, Jimmy proves that the old adage that, “a true hero is not measured by the size of his strength, but the strength of his heart.”  Despite his tough past, Jimmy has a strong moral core, and when weighing up how far to get involved in events, and how this could impact on him, is drawn to doing the right thing, be it tracking a killer, or protecting those he has a personal alliance with. I also liked the way that Wood dialled down the intensity of Jimmy’s character in his interactions with a couple of his homeless pals, giving wonderful little chinks of humour and lightness to the book.

With the book being set in Newcastle Upon Tyne, this obviously struck a note with me personally having lived there for several years. There was a certain particular joy that as Jimmy circumnavigates the city, it evoked a fond remembrance in me of places I am very familiar with. However, thanks to the clarity of Wood’s description of each locale, Newcastle is vividly drawn, capturing the spirit and verve of this unique city, but also unashamedly depicting the more downtrodden and threatening aspects of it too. Psychogeography plays a real part in the book I noticed, where Jimmy’s mood and fight or flight instinct is very much influenced by the areas of the city he traverses, so there are definite spaces of calm or threat for him, and this worked incredibly well. I also found the scenes depicting Jimmy’s traumatic experience within the confines of a naval ship incredibly powerful and so vivid that you were absolutely rooted in the heat, the noise and panic in the midst of an attack. Consequently, the flashbacks that Jimmy experiences throughout the book take him, and by extension us, back to this scene of trauma in an intensely deep way, arousing empathy in the reader. On a smaller scale I grew up in a naval city during the Falklands and the sight of those damaged ships limping back to port and my school friends losing brothers or fathers in this conflict will never leave me either. This makes the emotional depiction of Jimmy’s trauma all the more affecting and poignant for me personally, and certainly for readers generally.

As I like to give nothing away about plots, guess what? I’m giving nothing away about the plot, but suffice to say as you sail along on a story that keeps you utterly gripped, there is an absolutely bobbydazzler of a reveal at the latter end of the book; unexpected, dark and beautifully done. Taking this in conjunction with the characterisation, location, and the wonderful fluidity of Wood’s writing, The Man On The Street is genuinely one of the most unusual and affecting books I have read for some time. A dead cert for my Top 10 of the Year, although it’s only April, and I will be champing at the bit so see what Wood writes next. No pressure…

Highly recommended.

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(With thanks to Quercus for the ARC)

2 comments

  1. You are posting out reviews faster than I can read them! This one sounds great! Fran

    Sent from Mail for Windows 10

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