Written by Graham Hurley — After a string of bestselling books featuring the idiosyncratic Portsmouth policeman Joe Faraday, Graham Hurley made the brave decision to kill him off. In the next book, Happy Days, Faraday’s shadow loomed large as Hampshire Police played out a fatal endgame with the violent Pompey gangster Bazza McKenzie, and his ex-cop-turned-advisor Paul Winter. Now McKenzie is dead and Winter has disappeared under a witness protection plan. The only survivor from the old days is DS Jimmy Suttle, making Western Approaches the first in the Jimmy Suttle series.
He has turned his back on the Pompey lowlife to go and work in Devon, transporting his journalist wife Lizzie and their tiny daughter to what they hope will be a rural paradise. However things are far from well in the village of Newton Poppleford. Suttle has chosen an isolated cottage at the end of a mud-spattered lane. While he spends most of his time out of the house at work, Lizzie and Grace have to contend with the leaking roof, the lack of heating and the sense of isolation.
Our hero has been drafted onto the team investigating the mysterious death of Exmouth businessman Jake Kinsey. The man’s shattered body has been found on the hard paving beneath the balcony of his luxury harbour-view apartment, the morning after a party thrown to celebrate the victory of his rowing team in a local competition. Investigations reveal that Kinsey was an unpopular and opinionated loner who had bought his way into the rowing club with an open cheque book.
Suspicion naturally falls on the other members of the boat who were with Kinsey in the hours before he died. There is the cox, a feisty Irish doctor called Eamonn Lenahan, Andy Doyle who is a ringer from out of town, Milo Symons and his sexually voracious girlfriend Tash, and then Tom Pendrick. His name tugs at Jimmy Suttle’s consciousness but draws no response from the police computer. Then, after a few days, when Jimmy’s boss is poised to consign Kinsey’s death to the suicide folder, it comes to light that some years earlier Pendrick tried to row the Atlantic with his wife, who died in mysterious circumstances. Jimmy convinces his boss that the Kinsey case is still a murder enquiry but his problems mount as Lizzie makes it clear that she is near breaking point with her life in Chantry Cottage, and some unpleasant Portsmouth heavies let him know that for them, the death of Bazza McKenzie is still an open file.
This is so much more than a police procedural. All Hurley’s usual expertise is evident. He draws terse but perceptive pen-portraits of Jimmy Suttle’s colleagues and superiors. Suttle himself opens up as an intriguing and complex character, and the list of possible suspects is kept open until the final pages. The beautiful shore-scapes and attention to geography much admired by fans of the Faraday books are still there, but transposed from The Solent to the estuary of The Exe.
Where Western Approaches leaves a lasting impression is in its painfully honest description of the breakdown of a marriage. We almost wince as Hurley describes the insidious way in which doubt replaces certainty and suspicion replaces trust. The shades of Joe Faraday and Bazza Mckenzie still hover over the action but they are now in our peripheral vision. There is a brief, surprising, but very telling reappearance of an old acquaintance, and the book ends rather enigmatically. For those who like happy endings Graham Hurley sows a few tiny seeds of hope which may bear fruit in his next book, which will be eagerly awaited by this reviewer.
CFL Rating: 5 Stars