Written by Kevin Sampson — Welcome to The Killing Pool, a book that’s so dark you may well need a torch to read it. Set in the mean streets of Liverpool, it features the lowest of lowlifes – and I don’t just mean the criminals. Liverpool is my birthplace, and I have to say that the city depicted here is not of my ken, although I’d left by 1984, when the earliest of the action takes place. Coincidentally, as I began writing this piece my email pinged and my daily fix of Liverpool Echo news dropped into the inbox. A quick scan of the headlines “Man beaten in attack”, “Charity shop trashed and robbed” and, most tellingly, “Armed police called out twice a day on Merseyside”. They showed that Sampson has a much better handle on the place than me.
The Killing Pool is the first in a series featuring DCI Billy McCartney, a character with whom I had something of a love, hate, love relationship as the story progressed. We are introduced to him, and his boss, Hubert Hodge, in the opening chapter, set in 2012. Both attend the scene of a gruesome killing. A headless corpse bleeds out on the floor and the pair realise that two years of hard work look doomed, because the victim is the Kalan Rozaki, youngest son of a notorious Kurdish crime family… and their key informant.
As McCartney begins his hunt for Kalan’s missing girlfriend, the action jumps back to the mid-80s, when a new DS is welcomed into the fold by the aforementioned Hodge. Hattie Vine is bright and eager but is soon left speechless by the relentless misogyny, racism and corruption of her co-workers. Ready to quit, she leaps at the chance to leave the office and strike out alone as an undercover operative – a decision which has horrific consequences.
The story moves on to 1997, and McCartney arrives in Liverpool. Previously, he has enjoyed success working undercover and catching the drugs kingpins unawares. After a huge bust on the Costa Del Crime, he has been headhunted by Hodge, a man who has devoted his career to fighting Liverpool’s drugs lords. They have a big fish in their sights, but can they reel him in? It’s a case destined to come back and haunt Billy as he fights the crooks – and his own demons – in the present day.
It speaks volumes about The Killing Pool that the main light relief is provided by a career criminal called Evan Kavanagh, better known as Shakespeare, who features in all three timelines and is a brilliantly conceived character. A foppish, small-time dealer, Shakespeare is a bad guy with a softer side, a knight in shining velvet if you like. I warmed to him from the off – probably because, with Shakespeare, what you see is what you get.
Transparency is more than can be said for anyone else in this gritty, hard-hitting story. I found it so hard-hitting, in fact, that I literally reeled as if punched in the solar plexus as the final, gobsmacking, twist, revealed itself. This is a truly jaw-dropping novel that is already muscling into position for my pick of this year’s top five reads. Now, you must excuse me – I’m off for a re-read! The Killing Pool is due for publication on March 21st.
CFL Rating: 5 Stars