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)

Blog Tour- Mari Hannah- The Scandal

When an young man is found stabbed to death in a side street in Newcastle city centre in the run up to Christmas, it looks like a botched robbery to DCI David Stone. But when DS Frankie Oliver arrives at the crime scene, she gets more than she bargained for. She IDs the victim as Herald court reporter, thirty-two-year old Chris Adams she’s known since they were kids. With no eyewitnesses, the MIT are stumped. They discover that when Adams went out, never to return, he was working on a scoop that would make his name. But what was the story he was investigating? And who was trying to cover it up? As detectives battle to solve the case, they uncover a link to a missing woman that turns the investigation on its head. The exposé has put more than Adams’ life in danger. And it’s not over yet…

Following The Lost and The Insider , both of which are really high-calibre police procedurals, we have now arrived at The Scandal, the third book featuring DCI David Stone and DS Frankie Oliver. I’m probably drawing on the biggest review cliché in the world, but this really is a series that goes from strength to strength…

Apart from the superlative structure of Mari Hannah’s books, and her remarkably fluid storytelling, that seems to just hold the reader in her palm of her hand, there are always additional layers of interest in every book. Too often police procedurals are a very linear affair, which probably is my main reason for avoiding most of them, but I am always singularly impressed how Hannah, in a similar way to the Scandinavian tradition of crime writing, throws a penetrating light on social issues, and spotlights those who suffer most in our unequal and unfair society. She achieves this not through soapbox posturing, but by carefully constructing her characters to reflect the effects of these problems in society, and the status quo, so we can make our own judgement call on them. In this book there are some big issues at the forefront of our duo’s investigation, bound up with homelessness, press corruption, and the abuse and exploitation of the elderly- weighty issues that are handled clear-sightedly and sensitively throughout. As a reader that enjoys the ability of crime fiction to more truthfully reflect and explore societal issues, Hannah’s books always hit the spot for this very reason.

Now before you start thinking that this all sounds a bit serious, I’ll throw into the mix the strength of Hannah’s characterisation too, particularly in relation to Stone and Oliver themselves. Their working and personal relationship is a wondrous thing, punctuated by humour, professional respect and periods of complete harmony in how they approach an investigation. However, there is always a slight chaos about their relationship that bursts forth every now and then, as Oliver is no doubt a very savvy detective but likes to go off-road every now and then, and Stone has to balance reining in her more impetuous behaviour, yet seeing where her more intuitive, sometimes secretive, detection takes them. Consequently, there are some wonderful moments of disagreement, class A sulking, and reluctant peace-making that is all rather enjoyable. Like all the best detecting duos, these moments of conflict and parity really make for genuinely engaging and likeable characters, surrounded by an equally strong supporting cast in their professional and private lives, which gives a real added layer of warmth and vibrancy to offset the darkness of  what proves to be a difficult and emotional investigation.

Obviously the portrayal of the North East is top drawer as usual (an area of the country I know well) and completely balanced in drawing attention to the best as well as the dodgy aspects of the area. I always feel a huge tug of emotion as Hannah traverses the region, and love the familiarity I have with the murder sites- if that doesn’t make me sound too much like a twisted weirdo. Joking aside, I will repeat what I have said before that Hannah obviously has a huge pride in, and affection for the region, and this is so tangible throughout her writing, and always a pleasure to read. It goes without saying that I always look forward to the next book Hannah produces, across any of her series, and once again, this is a highly engaging, intelligent, entertaining and well written police procedural. Highly recommended.

(With thanks to Orion Books for the ARC)

Check out an extract of The Scandal at Shotsmag

Catch up with the blog tour at these excellent sites: