Written by Nick Quantrill — Hull. The 1980s. A rough and tumble city in northern England, trying to come to terms with itself as traditional industries fade, and new challenges beckon. Police. Honest coppers and bent coppers. Criminals prepared to laugh at the former and use the latter for their own ends. And, an ex-rugby player turned private detective. These are some of the ingredients author Nick Quantrill mixed together to concoct his first two crime novels – Broken Dreams and The Late Greats. Now he’s back with book three: The Crooked Beat.
Joe Geraghty, son of a celebrated Rugby League player, had his own career in the sport brought to an abrupt and painful end after an intentionally damaging tackle from an opposing forward shattered his knee. Now, after losing his wife in a house fire, he has reached another career low, as his private investigation firm has been wound up, after a disagreement with his partner, ex-policeman Don Ridley. Geraghty’s brother has foolishly agreed to store some smuggled cigarettes in his lock-up. Trouble is, the cigarettes have been stolen, and the criminals behind the deal want their money back. As he shoulders this burden, Geraghty also decides to take one last case after a former client suspects his wife of having an affair.
To save his brother from being drawn further into trouble, Geraghty tells the villains that he will take on the debt, and after his attempts to recover the merchandise fail, he is forced to become involved in some very dubious activities. The dour and gloomy investigator turns over a few large stones and lets daylight shine on all manner of nasty things scuttling about underneath. Members of his own family are deeply involved in the events and he has to carry around secrets which, if revealed, could shatter the lives of the people he cares about most.
Hull is not a city which immediately comes to mind when the word ‘atmospheric’ is mentioned, but Quantrill draws you into his web and you’ll get to know the place. Nearly destroyed by German bombs in World War II, a new city arose from the rubble. When its trademark fishing industry collapsed and died, it reinvented itself as an Enterprise Zone heavily involved in green technology. The culture engendered by the rival Rugby League clubs is a tough and rugged yarn which is woven through the fabric of the city and the novel. Like many seaports it is no stranger to the rough side of life, and Hull’s villains are every bit as vicious and ruthless as their cousins in London.
Geraghty is an enigmatic character. To say he is downbeat, if not down at heel, is something of an understatement. Don’t expect a fast lifestyle, wisecracks or the explosive violence of swift justice. Expect tins of tomato soup, taciturnity and the slow fuse of a man who realises that he is not one of life’s action men. He is a man to whom things happen, rather than someone who moves and shakes his way through life, but he is perceptive, realistic and, above all dogged. This book is niche writing. A grey bank of cloud, mostly metaphorical but sometimes literal, hangs over proceedings. There is little cheer in the book, and even less to cheer about, but The Crooked Beat is shot through with a clarity and honesty which are almost painful at times. Quantrill is one of our finest young writers, but this book will not appeal to everyone. If books were films, this would certainly be a brooding black and white masterpiece.
CFL Rating: 5 Stars