Written by Tony Parsons — Crime fiction has become the destination genre of choice for writers who have been successful writing other kinds of fiction. JK Rowling, John Banville and Isabel Allende are just a few of the big names who have tried their hand at crime fiction writing in recent years. Now it’s the turn of the journalist Tony Parsons, better known for his novels portraying the personal hardships and relationship problems of middle aged men. You may have read his hit novel Man and Boy.
The Murder Bag, we are told, will be the first of a series featuring 30-something single dad and police detective Max Wolfe. So, familiar territory, but with a murder mystery and some action to spice things up. Can he pull it off?
The story itself is solid enough, with no major surprises but nothing implausible either. Max Wolfe is a bit impulsive, a bit of a ‘go by gut feeling’ policeman, newly assigned to the homicide division in at West End Central – on Savile Row, no less. When an investment banker is found murdered in his office early one morning, virtually decapitated, it is tempting to label it an attack against the rich and powerful. The second victim, however, is a homeless drug addict. The connection between the two, it appears, is the expensive public school they both attended 20 years previously, Potter’s Field. Detective Wolfe patiently follows the trail and uncovers a terrible secret linking seven old schoolfriends. Will he be able to resolve the mystery before all seven of them are killed? And just who is the man claiming to be Bob the Butcher, as the press has hastened to call this serial killer?
This is a police procedural and Parsons is keen to show us just how thoroughly he has done his homework. There is quite a bit of explaining, even lecturing perhaps, which slows down the action. Many of the observations about life and death, justice and revenge, are laid on rather thickly, with a bit of a trowel. This feels like a story that we have heard many times before, but what saves the book from descending into cliché is the description of Wolfe’s family life. He is divorced, his ex-wife has a new family, while he is left looking after their daughter Scout. He has a close, complicit relationship with the precocious five-year-old, and they have just adopted a puppy, Stan. There is perhaps a little too much description of Wolfe’s personal life for a standard crime novel, but these passages seem the most successful to me.
In conclusion, what I would say to Tony Parsons is to stick to the kind of fiction he does best. While the book whiled away a few hours, there was nothing to make it stand out from so many other crime novels being published each year.
CFL Rating: 3 Stars
+++++++++ SPOILER +++++++
I can’t for the life of me understand why the police in the book did not concentrate all their efforts on investigating the common denominator of the murders. Three men, all murdered in the exact same way, who have all been friends at school? And they basically do jack quat in that regard? Just the protagonist who sorta, kinda digs here and there a bit but ultimately doesn’t seem all that invested either? And who doesn’t say anything when his colleagues make chasing down an internet troll their number one priority?
I’m sorry, this is bad, real bad.