Written by Graham Hurley — For years DS Jimmy Suttle made cameo appearances alongside his former boss, Joe Faraday, mixing it with ruthless Portsmouth gangsters like Bazza McKenzie. But the enigmatic Faraday died by his own hand, and McKenzie perished in a hail of police bullets. Suttle has given up the bright lights, millionaire harbourfront condos and scabrous council estates of Pompey, and moved to rural Devon with his wife, Lizzie, and child.
In Western Approaches we watched as Lizzie became more and more frustrated with their leaky, draughty, third world cottage. Suttle merely worked longer and longer hours away from Lizzie and Grace, only using the cottage to slump into bed after each seemingly endless shift. Now, in Touching Distance, Lizzie has had enough, and has decamped back to Portsmouth, where she has resumed her career as an investigative journalist.
Suttle is called out to a bizarre, incomprehensible crime scene. On a remote Dartmoor road, a young man is found dead at the wheel of his car, killed by a gunshot. In the back of the car, is a tiny baby, still alive. It turns out that Michael Corrigan had a complicated private life. The mother of the child is a career-driven media type who returned to London leaving Corrigan and the child in a pebble dash semi in the Devon town of Paignton, with an embittered musician called Ian Goodyer and the exotic black jazz singer, Nicinha Felicidad.
When another shooting takes place, and then another, Suttle sees the irony of his situation. Having survived the casual violence of Portsmouth, he is now in an idyllic rural landscape where a highly trained weapons expert is picking off seemingly unconnected targets. Meanwhile, Lizzie has met a devastatingly attractive marines officer who, in addition to providing wonderful sex, has offered her a major scoop revealing the truth about a secretive rehabilitation home for maimed Afghanistan vets. In her absence, Suttle is sharing his remote cottage with an eccentric, brave, and wildly homosexual doctor, Eamonn Lenahan, who alternates between spells in a local hospital with tours of duty with Médecins Sans Frontières. On returning to the cottage after yet another exhausting day trying to track down the Devon assassin, Suttle discovers something which will have a shocking effect on his sense of well-being and his faith in his own judgment. Lizzie’s whirlwind affair with Rob Merrilees ends when she is hit with a revelation which takes her breath away. There is a violent but satisfying – in the sense that many of the plot threads are drawn together – conclusion, and the final pages certainly give hardened crime buffs something to think about. For those of us with a more sentimental mindset, there is also a little glimmer of hope.
This is, on one level, a brilliant police procedural, but away from the testosterone fueled criminal scene in Porstmouth, Hurley paints a much more nuanced picture of the menace contained in towns like Paignton and Exmouth. Devon is clearly not all cream teas and sandy beaches. There is a genuine atmosphere of threat lurking behind the peeling stucco of the seaside villas. Jimmy Suttle is now a fully fleshed out creation, and by the end of the book we know so much about what makes him tick, and what motivates him. Joe Faraday was a unique and memorable character, but Hurley was brave enough to do away with him. It is too early to judge for which character Hurley will be best remembered, but this is an exciting, authentic and thought-provoking read.
It’s on sale from 21 November.
CFL Rating: 5 Stars