The Teacher

Written by Tim Sullivan

Review written by Jon Morgan

Jon Morgan is a retired police Superintendent and francophile who, it is said, has consequently seen almost everything awful that people can do to each other. He relishes quality writing in all genres but advises particularly on police procedure for authors including John Harvey and Jon McGregor. Haunts bookshops both new and secondhand and stands with Erasmus: “When I have a little money, I buy books; and if I have any left, I may buy food and clothes.”

The Teacher
Head of Zeus
RRP: £20.00 / £3.99
Released: January 18, 2024
Hbk & Ebook

Detective Sergeant George Cross (yes, that is is name!) is causing trouble again. He doesn’t mean to but as he is ‘on the spectrum’ he has to follow his own code. This means he does things his way and with the help and support of his boss (sometimes) and his colleagues in the Major Crime Unit, he has the best detection rate in Avon and Somerset police. This is why he is given leeway.

When a retired teacher, whose son is a local MP (and former Minister subject to a recall petition after bulling allegations – sound familiar?) is found dead in his book-lined cottage, Cross and his DCI attend the scene. Unfortunately, a very arrogant DI on attachment from Kent Police is made SIO and despite guidance does not understand Cross, or how to make best use of his skills indeed he deliberately antagonises and belittles him.

From this point, there are effectively two investigations. The DI’s enquiry which quickly identifies and charges a suspect despite Cross’s misgivings, and that run by Cross which painstakingly sifts and assesses evidence rather than assumptions and leaps of faith.

Thrown into the mix is Cross’s background, his recent reconnection with his Mother who left when he was younger, his idiosyncratic behaviour, which some take for arrogance and rudeness but which is a direct result of his condition.

Inevitably the case against the suspect falls apart and Cross is left to resolve it, going through more twists and turns than can be counted. There are various sub-plots which are lined to the main narrative. The DI has his own problems from here and his ultimate fate is very satisfying.

If all this sounds slightly pedestrian, it is emphatically not! Sullivan’s construction of his crime novels is impeccable. I have only recently come across his books and whilst the backstory to Cross and his team, (from previous books), is not essential, it does help. The narrative is built around the central character, what makes him tick or perhaps tock, and his condition, which is well researched and sympathetically portrayed, whilst examining the humour that Cross’s encounters with other people can provoke. I liked him immensely.

The book examines the inhumanity of a teacher towards his pupils, and the long term effects that this has on them, (based on the author’s own experiences) the inhumanity of those who send their children to boarding school at age 7, the inhumanity of powerful men towards women, the inhumanity of bigoted elected representatives towards the vulnerable. It also highlights the best of people, as neighbours and friends, carers colleagues and family.

There is an immense range and depth in this novel, as in Sullivan’s other works. The frequent humour is gentle and sharp but never cruel. As readers we confront our own and society’s failings, prejudices and attitudes, not in a hectoring or didactic manner but quietly and subtly.

It is only in crime fiction of exceptional quality that the characters are so well formed with credible backgrounds and human failings. Here, the ‘oddball’ detective is not a trope but a fully rounded individual with strengths, fears and faults. Sullivan’s writing bears comparison with other high quality crime authors like John Harvey Edward Wilson and Mick Herron.

If, like me, you are new to DS Cross and his world, you are in for an absolute treat. The novels do stand alone and I have now read three, out of order, without any loss of enjoyment. I am actively seeking his back catalogue and look forward to any new books.


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