Thursday, 18 November 2010


When this series began, eleven novels ago, Joe Faraday was the featured character. But his Portsmouth police colleague, and sometimes rival, Paul Winter, joined him centre stage, almost by force of will. This reflected their characters, the bigger-than-life Winter played fast and loose with the rules, and wound up working for the kingpin of Portsmouth crime, Bazza Mackenzie. Meanwhile Faraday plodded on, as frustrated as Winter with the bureaucracy and hypocrisy of the police business, but too honest and decent, too committed to his own idea of justice, to give up in frustration, like Winter.

Where Winter's character has always been defined by action, Faraday's has been one of metaphors: his seemingly isolated house, his bird-watching, his communication (or lack thereof) with his deaf-mute son. As in his police work, Faraday's need for truths and sureties in his personal life has been a problem, not least with his current girlfriend, the French sociologist Gabrielle. Borrowed Light begins with a car crash; Joe and Gabrielle are on holiday in Egypt, their driver is killed, his injuries are worse than hers, and by the time he wakes up Gabrielle has already become attached to a young girl from Gaza, who suffered terrible burns from an Israeli phosphorus bomb during the recent invasion. Joe returns to Portsmouth; Gabrielle and the girl follow eventually, and by now she wants to essay the almost impossible task of adopting the child.

Meanwhile, Joe is greeted back at work by a huge case, the murder of four people, their corpses found charred in the remains of a fire at an Isle Of Wight farmhouse. The killings involve drugs, and Bazza, and because of that Winter, but as the story progresses Winter, prodded by his former protege Jimmy Suttle, begins to realise he's had enough of the dark side of the street. Particularly as Bazza has decided to run for mayor of Portsmouth, and the press seem to be lapping up the image he's selling, of the rough local boy made good. It's another lovely reversal of the situation, but it's like a slap of reality when Bazza, while keeping Winter in the dark, reverts to violent form. But such realisation may be too late. It may also be too late for Faraday, who finds Gabrielle more and more distant, and, despite the thrill of the chase, finds himself less and less able to focus on his work.

Hurley builds a engrossing story, mixing his very accurate-feeling police procedural with the internal traumas of both Winter and Faraday, less reflections of each other than a sort of copshop yin and yang. Both characters seem somehow more real than most cops—eve though Faraday is very much in the depressive tradition of Martin Beck or Wallander, and Winter could come from Joseph Wambaugh or Trevor Preston. And they run up against a brick wall engineered by a madam who could come out of Raymond Chandler at his most fearful of cold calculating black widows.

It's all a heady mix, but the focus is our two main characters, and the ending, while not quite a surprise, is incredibly moving and well done. As well as ever so slightly ambiguous, if you want to read it that way. Hurley has always handled the complicated mix of police work, social analysis of Portsmouth (and by extension, the country—and the new 'coalition' government isn't spared), and the lives of his deeply-faceted characters. The Faraday and Winter series has done what John Harvey did with Resnick in Nottingham, or Ian Rankin with Rebus in Edinburgh, with increasing flair and deepening feeling. It really deserves a place in the British pantheon.

Borrowed Light by Graham Hurley
Orion £12.99 ISBN 9781409101239

This review will also appear at Crime Time,

1 comment :

Ross Waters said...

Retirement and living for his hobby and son would have been a better end for Faraday. J-J's devastation was not warranted