BLURB: A cop killer on the loose in Cardiff – introducing a dark and gritty new voice in crime fiction, perfect for fans of Stuart MacBride and David Mark
At a squalid flat near the Cardiff docks, an early morning police raid goes catastrophically wrong when the police aren’t the only unexpected guests. A plain clothes officer is shot dead at point blank range, the original suspect is left in a coma. The killer, identity unknown, slips away.
Young and inexperienced, Will MacReady starts his first day on the CID. With the city in shock and the entire force reeling, he is desperate to help - but unearths truths that lead the team down an increasingly dark path…
I really enjoyed this new (to me, at least) voice in crime fiction. As it was written by someone who was on the job for more than 20 years, you know that all the nuts and bolts of police work are in their correct places (see below for Mike’s excellent list of screw-ups he’s come across in crime fiction – I came across number 6 just last week, but I won’t name and shame anyone!) It’s more than that though – he’s got an interesting, and plausible plot, which kept me guessing til the conclusion. In Will McReady, he’s got a sympathetic lead character, who, when the book begins, is on his first day in CID. He’s got an interesting backstory, in that he could – potentially – have ended up in trouble himself. His father, a violent bully to Will and his brother when they were younger, is now “over the wall” for murder, and his brother looks like he’s got the same temper as his father. Will is often being called out by uniform to his brother Stuart’s house, as the neighbours have rang them due to Stuart and his other half screaming and fighting with each other, with their three small children in the middle of it all. This invariably means Will has to put him up until things calm down – much to Megan’s chagrin. Will also bails them out by paying half their rent each month, and that, coupled with the money he and his wife Megan have paid out for IVF, has left him skint. He and Megan are drifting apart due to his inability to father a child – the one thing Megan desperately wants.
But enough about Will himself – to the story! It opens, intriguingly, in Nigeria, with a young man delivering a boy – for payment – to an orphanage called the Baobab Tree House – a place with a reputation of having less than altruistic motives. There’s further small portions throughout the book following the boy’s story – in a clinic in Portugal; on a private plane…But it’s in Cardiff where the vast majority of the action takes place. The cop who was shot, Garratt, had a reputation for going off and doing things solo – well, almost solo, so he could lap up the accolades. For example, on that bust, which was meant to bring in one of the city’s most wanted, Leon King, there were only three of them – no back-up, and no armed response. King wasn’t thought to have access to firearms. But someone in the house did, and shot Garratt dead, as well as shooting Leon King, leaving him in a coma and unable to help the police out (although doubtless he wouldn’t have, anyway!)
One of their few leads is that the DNA of a young man called Jermaine Tate was found in the flat in question, but there’s no way of knowing how long it’s been there. Other evidence taken from the flat leads them to another young man called Dane Sillitoe, but he’s been out of trouble for 14 months and claims to have gone straight, working for his father’s limo and private ambulance firm.
Will does “go rogue” a few times, but it’s nothing too unbelievable – he just thinks outside the box a bit; uses local knowledge he gained while in uniform; and looks at conversations as possibly having another meaning than initially assumed. The team are also a likeable lot – DI Fletcher and DS Beck are interesting characters with great potential, whereas DC Harrison can’t resist any opportunity to eat. Touches of humour throughout and banter between colleagues lighten up the story.
The final, short part, appropriately titled Things Fall Apart, given that we started in Nigeria, and that things really do go to hell in a handcart in this part, had me frantically turning the pages to get to the conclusion – a definite sign of quality in crime fiction.
There’s plenty of potential here, so it’s great to see it’s the first in a series featuring Will. Also, another of Thomas’s books, Ugly Bus (no, me neither!), is in development with the BBC to become a six-part series. It looks like Mike Thomas will definitely be a name to watch, so do the sensible thing and get in there at the start! You know you want to!
Keep following the Blog Tour, which will be stopping off at the fabulous lizlovesbooks.com tomorrow!
Now, Mike has kindly contributed his (very amusing) list of:
Ten Things To Avoid In Crime Novels
I spent more than two decades as a cop, and read little in the way of crime – after a twelve hour shift, reading the latest grisly police procedural was about as appealing as dealing with another Sudden Death incident where the putrid corpse was a sunk-into-the-carpet three month old mess. Now I’m no longer a plod, and writing them myself, it’s been interesting to see the police patois and terminology that ends up in contemporary UK crime novels. How much of it rings true? What should you avoid for your next twisty-turny magnum opus? What words or phrases are guaranteed to jolt me out of an otherwise deftly-plotted thriller? Here’s some – hopefully – helpful pointers from a cop-turned-crime-writer.
- ‘Squad car’. You mean a response car, response vehicle, or an IRV (Incident Response Vehicle or Immediate Response Vehicle). Cops just don’t call their patrol vehicles ‘squad cars’. You can still use ‘panda car’, as it is still heard on occasion. Squad car? Nope.
- ‘He turned and handed the file to a WPC.’ WPC? Woman Police Officer? Female coppers haven’t been referred to as WPCs for twenty years now. So don’t use the prefix in your book, okay? Okay.
- Lawyer. ‘She asked for her lawyer.’ ‘He refused to speak until he had a lawyer.’ This ain’t America, dude. British cops and robbers rarely use lawyer in this context, because the term refers to the bewigged barristers who love to hear their own voices in Crown Court, not the slick-suited men and women who turn up at custody suites at all hours, laden with fags and ‘sammiches’ for their clients. Instead, use ‘solicitor’, ‘defence solicitor’, ‘sol’, ‘defence sol’ or even ‘brief’.
- Be mindful of force areas and boundaries – it jars when your protagonist (who works for, say, Hampshire Constabulary) is investigating a large scale incident in Bristol at the start of your novel. This would never happen. It would be an Avon and Somerset matter (it is their ‘patch’), and quite possibly involve drug dealing (Bristol city centre) or something to do with worrying livestock (everywhere else in their force area).
- Vernacular for rank. Get it right. I read a (best-selling) crime novel recently that had a Police Sergeant being referred to as ‘Ma’am’. Female inspectors are called ‘Ma’am’, or often just ‘inspector’. A police sergeant, regardless of gender, is ‘Sarge’. And cops never, ever refer to senior ranks as ‘superiors’ – this is a real no-no. ‘Senior officers’ will do. Or, with a curled lip, ‘rankers’. Yes, it rhymes.
- ‘The Detective Superintendent looked at him and said, ‘You keep this up Sergeant, and I’ll promote you to inspector.’’ Aaaargh. This would NEVER, EVER HAPPEN. Supers can’t promote anyone. Inspectors can’t promote sergeants. Sergeants cannot promote constables. Exams and promotion boards are the only way. If your protagonist is a detective constable, they will have to sit and pass the sergeant’s exam, then face a board, and if promoted to sergeant spend at least a year back in uniform on response – if there are any vacancies across the force – to learn the roles and responsibilities of the new rank. Only then can they apply for CID, and will only get a post if they pass an interview and if there is a vacancy. This can take a couple of years. So, in short, your detective has to jump through a lot of hoops (and suffer at least a year ‘back in the cloth’ of uniform) to attain the next CID rank.
- Interviews. You can’t just ‘have a quick chat’ about their involvement in the case with a suspect in the back of a car, or in his cell, or while sitting in one of the station’s designated interview rooms (never ‘interrogation room’, which I have read in published novels). They must be formally arrested and cautioned, or at the very least cautioned before questions are asked and notes taken. They must have the offer of a ‘brief’ to look after them. These ‘quick chats’ lead to complications later on if it goes to court, when cases can be thrown out due to failure to comply with PACE (the Police and Criminal Evidence Act).
- ‘The Detective Sergeant sat in the public gallery of Crown Court Five, listening as his Inspector gave evidence. Nervous that he was up in the witness box next.’ Your DS hasn’t given evidence yet? Then he wouldn’t be allowed in the courtroom. Those TV shows that have the entire investigating team sitting and nodding along to the prosecution barrister, even before they’ve sworn on the good book? Never happen.
- You can’t have your grizzled, grumpy yet straighter-than-straight Detective Chief Superintendent threaten your cunning yet iconoclastic hero cop protagonist – because, you know, they’re always butting heads – with ‘If you keep this up you’re finished in Cardiff. I’ll transfer you to Hull.’ Even the Chief Constable can’t do this. The Home Secretary can’t do this, for goodness’ sake. It involves different forces. Different stations, shifts, workloads. Cops aren’t pawns on a big crimey-crime chessboard thing, endlessly moveable or disposable. This, again, would never, ever happen.
- Forensics. You’ve got a great scene: your Detective Inspector protagonist, perched on a settee in her expensive pant suit, is staring at the body on the lounge floor while ruminating on the depravities human beings are capable of, her mind whirring as she tries to fit together the clues, the civvy CSIs moving around her, taking photos, videos, dusting for latent prints oh no sorry she wouldn’t even be there. Get her out of the room – she’s contaminating the crime scene. Crime scenes are sacred. Everyone who is allowed to enter will be wearing paper booties, hair nets, face masks, gloves. A uniform on the door will sign everyone in and out. If you have no business being there, you won’t be allowed in. So that lovely, moving chapter where your DI walks the house, checking every room, absorbing it all? Nope. See also: detectives picking up pieces of evidence WITH BARE HANDS, looking at it closely (breathing on it, dropping saliva and skin flakes and hairs), then PASSING IT TO A COLLEAGUE SO THEY CAN DO THE SAME. No. Just no. Always remember Locard’s Principle. And never have your hero contaminate the scene. A good cop – hopefully your cop in your story – would never do it.