Written by Dominic Kearney — As 2007 draws to a close, the city of Liverpool looks like a giant building site as it prepares to take centre stage as the 2008 European City of Culture. It’s a huge fillip for a city that has been in the economic doldrums and the local newspaper, the Liverpool Morning Mail, is keen to trumpet every achievement on its front page.
Which means that when the body of a prostitute is found battered and burned on the site of a new hotel development, the story is buried deep inside the paper. Much to the disgust of the journalist who wrote it. But then Susan Clarke is used to her stories being disregarded. She’s in her 40s, a borderline alcoholic and, in the eyes of her bosses, is washed up and worse than useless. Clearly, the years have not been kind to Susan. Once a high flyer, her world fell apart after an ill-judged affair with the Morning Mail’s assistant editor which left her marriage and her life in tatters.
Across the newsroom sits Rachel Jack, a young reporter whose career is on the up. Her byline has been on any number of high profile stories, which brings her to the unwelcome attention of dangerous local crimelord Franny Sweeney. She is summoned to see him at his home in the posh suburbs of Liverpool, and is surprised at what he has to say. But is his no-strings-attached promise of a story that could make Rachel’s name and take her to the big time all that it’s cracked up to be?
Their fortunes may be at opposite ends of the journalistic scale, but when circumstances throw the pair together they make a formidable investigative team – although more Cagney and Lacey than Woodward and Bernstein, as they do tend to hold meetings in the ladies’ toilets. As the plot unfolds, it dawns on the pair that the stories they are following are more connected than they ever could have imagined – putting them both in danger… But who exactly is doing the threatening?
As they doggedly continue to search for the truth, Susan begins to realise that all is not lost in her life, while Rachel discovers she isn’t as hard bitten as she thought. They are a great pair, full of contrasts and wisecracks and firmly at the heart of a plot that always keeps you guessing.
The city of Liverpool is a well drawn and vital member of the ensemble cast. The author knows his setting well – and it shows – as the reader is given a whistle stop tour of some of the best and worst the place has to offer. The Cast-Iron Men of the title are a range of metal sculptures by Antony Gormley which stand on the beach at Crosby, to the north of the city, and they feature in one of the book’s most haunting scenes.
I enjoyed this debut by Liverpool born writer Dominic Kearney, who now lives in Derry. Hopefully he’ll continue Susan and Rachel’s story in a follow-up novel. Cast-Iron Men is a self-published work which would have benefited from the services of a good proofreader, but don’t let a few errors put you off reading this original and engaging piece of crime fiction.
CFL Rating: 4 Stars