East of Innocence

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East of Innocence200Written by David Thorne — Daniel Connell used to be a legal hotshot in the City of London, mixing with the headhunted wide boys, and watching as millions of pounds swirled this way and that at the click of a mouse. He used to be someone. Until, that is,  his old fashioned good manners and sense of gallantry provoked him into an act of violence against a particularly boorish colleague who was belittling a vulnerable secretary.

As his career went metaphorically south, Connell was forced to go literally east, and the story begins with him trying to establish a legal practice in the distinctly unlovely hinterland of Essex. He has come home. He was born and brought up here by his curmudgeonly and occasionally brutish father and, after his brief encounter with the glittering of high finance, he is back with a bump.

Connell has to take a rather unwelcome case. An old friend from school days has made the slightly questionable career move, from an Essex point of view, of joining the police. Now he is in double trouble. He has been picked up for a drugs scam and, as an unintended consequence, has witnessed a horrendous act of brutality by his colleagues, led by the odious detective, Baldwin. A teenage girl has been murdered, and Connell smells the whiff of corruption. Police corruption.

As relations with his father deteriorate, Connell wonders more and more about the identity and fate of his mother. He has always been told that she walked away when he was a baby, never to be seen again. As he pursues another case – that of a feckless burglar run down in an apparently motiveless hit and run incident – Connell meets a face from his father’s past. Vincent Halliday is a well-connected Essex criminal, with a long history of misdeeds involving armed robbery and prostitution. Almost by chance, at a party, Halliday says something that convinces Connell there is some connection between his mother and the gangster.

While being hooked into an apparently innocent conveyancing job for Halliday, and receiving violent and bloody attention from Baldwin and his stooges, Connell spins around Europe. Manchester one day, Marbella the next. As he gets pushed first into one corner, and then another, by opponents determined to keep bodies buried and dogs safely sleeping, Connell reaches breaking point. After a timely intervention by his best friend, Connell wreaks a terrible vengeance on those for whom he has become an expendable nuisance.

I had a few minor reservations about this book. I was never quite sure what the scenes at the tennis club were all about, unless they were to add more substance to the idea that while Connell may not be from a well to do background, with his intellect and education he’s able to operate at all levels of society. The catalogue of abuse and manipulation inflicted on various women by the macho mobsters of Romford and Chadwell Heath is honestly and painfully put together, and while this is a slick, fast moving and thoroughly readable novel, it is more affecting than the sum of its parts might suggest. Baldwin is as perverse and nasty a villain as you will encounter all year, and Thorne seamlessly weaves the moving back story of Connell’s search for his mother into the main biff-bash fabric of the story. The gangster types are credible without being particularly original, and if the fate of Baldwin tests credibility, there is a final delicious twist in Connell’s dealings with Halliday.

East of Innocence is out on 2 January.

Atlantic Books

CFL Rating: 4 Stars

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