Keith Miles is probably best recognised by readers under the pen name of Edward Marston. He writes several well-received historical mysteries spanning the 11th century through to the 19th century. His website is www.edwardmarston.com
Kevin Sampson’s latest visit to the sleazy underbelly of Merseyside has all the hallmarks of its predecessors. It’s tough, gritty, hard-hitting and written with an insider’s knowledge of the area. DCI Billy McCartney leads a Drug Squad that’s closing in the Rozaki brothers, notorious for heroin trafficking. Unfortunately, McCartney’s main informant – Kalan, a third Rosaki brother – is hacked to death, throwing the whole police operation into chaos. Investigating the murder, McCartney uncovers the most enormous can of worms.
The book begins in 1984 when the police are portrayed as uniformly sexist, racist, foul-mouthed and interchangeably nasty. WPC Hattie Vine has the misfortune to join a squad where she’s routinely teased and harassed. On a stake-out at a Chinese restaurant, she spots one of her superiors chatting amiably with the villains. Before she can escape, she’s hauled off into a cellar and subjected to anal rape. The story moves onto 1997 when McCartney arrives back in Liverpool with mixed feelings. By 2012 he’s still wrestling with demons from the past.
The group narrative is shared between a handful of key characters. It allows for a shifting perspective but it also interrupts the momentum of the novel. The focus is much more on the individual thoughts and actions of the police than on the villains they’re pursuing. Indeed, for all their trumpeted importance, the Rozaki brothers remain strangely peripheral. McCartney makes crucial mistakes and is ready to bend the rules but his sheer persistence gets him there in the end.
Readers from Merseyside will get extra value from a novel that lays bare the ugly facts about the area’s recent and contemporary crime scene.