Wednesday, 26 December 2012

GRAHAM HURLEY'S WESTERN APPROACHES: I.T.'S CHRISTMAS READ

Joe Faraday is dead by his own hand. Bazza McKenzie, crime lord of Pompey, is dead. His betrayer, ex-cop Paul Winter, has gone off into hiding with Misty Gallagher. And Jimmy Suttle has taken his journalist wife Lizzie and their baby daughter down to a decrepit house in Devon, where he's now working for the Devon and Cornwall police. So when the body of a wealthy rower is found on the pavement below his huge penthouse overlooking Exmouth's shore, Suttle's instincts kick in, and he is determined to prove that this was indeed a major crime and not a suicide.

Western Approaches represents a change of direction, as it were, for Graham Hurley. Faraday was a loner, a 'depressive detective' in the mould of Beck, Bosch, or Resnick, but what made the series succeed so well was the growth of Winter as a character; the two of them providing a sort of partnership even though they weren't actually together. The problem with switching to Jimmy Suttle is we don't really have a good picture of the man, and what makes him tick, he's younger and with less backstory than his superiors in Portsmouth. But it's a problem Hurley solves deftly, by making Suttle's marriage the focal point of the story. Lizzie is frustrated, as their brucolic dream becomes a dreary nightmare, intensified by Suttle's ability to settle for making do, and his growing satisfaction with the work. Lizzie misses her work, misses her city, and in effect misses the people they were when they got married.

It is interesting how this story trumps the actual investigation into the crime, although inevitably they do come together, as Suttle encourages his wife to join the rowing club to which the murder victim belonged, and indeed tried to dominate. Rowing provides Lizzie with the springboard to recapturing her own life, for better or worse. Suttle also has to deal with his own past, in the shape of some of Bazza's old Pompey gang, who want revenge on Winter and assume Suttle will know where to find him. This highlights another problem for Hurley: the previous series plays an important part in this story, and the characters play a part too. If you're coming to it cold, it will not resonate the way it does if you followed the whole Faraday-Winter saga, that is unavoidable, but he manages to built up the background through inference to avoid the reader relying solely on explication.

The actual 'mystery' in this tale is not all that mysterious, though at least one of the suspects, a former actress living in a trailer with her wanna-be film-maker partner, is interesting enough to warrant more time—indeed, Hurley creates a number of female characters who cry out for more attention, but that attention is really directed at Lizzie. And it's a fine piece of writing, as he delineates the growing chasm between her and Suttle (who is anything but, ironically), and charts the ebb and flow of their relationship—something which echoes the movie the rowing pair were getting the murder victim to fund.

The crime plays out as one might expect, but Lizzie and Suttle's story plays out with more than a few twists, which are worth leaving unspoiled. The final one however, suggests an immediate sequel, which already has conflict set up, because Hurley does something he writes very well: has a character act against a number of instincts because of one that is, in the initial instance, more powerful. That is the frailty which he has examined in great deal in the Faraday/Winter books, and he's off to a good start here. Western Approaches was my Christmas Eve/Day read, and it's actually published tomorrow: too late to be a gift, but definitely a present.

Western Approaches by Graham Hurley
Orion £12.99 ISBN 9781409131526

this review will also appear at Crime Time (www.crimetime.co.uk)

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