Written by Paul Finch — A former copper, journalist and screenwriter for The Bill, Paul Finch has had Kindles and Kobos buzzing with his DS Mark ‘Heck’ Heckenburg series. Stalkers, the first Heck book, boasts over 180,000 ebook sales so far. The second, Sacrifice, set records for pre-orders. Hunted is the fifth in the series, but the first to appear here on Crime Fiction Lover.
Heck is a maverick detective, but he gets results. So his role on the national Serial Crimes Unit suits him down to the ground. One minute he’s busting a serial rapist and murderer in Nottingham, the next he’s down in leafy Surrey ruffling the feathers of both poachers and gamekeepers. This story gets underway with two youths stealing a car to joyride. Trouble is their ride has been booby-trapped with deadly arachnids and they die horribly. Poetic justice, perhaps.
There is no justice in the death of Harold Lansing. He gets into his car to go to work, rolls it to the end of the drive, and checks the curved mirror across the road for traffic on the bend. All clear. He pulls out and WHAM! A sporty coupe slams into his vehicle. He finds himself clear of his car and two figures in overalls are approaching. He signals to them for help. But instead of assistance he gets a terrific beating and the larger chap throws semi-conscious Harold back into the wreckage just before it becomes a ball of fire. The driver of the sports car died on impact.
Gemma Piper, Heck’s superior at the SCU, knew Harold Lansing and believes his death was no accident. He was a fastidiously careful man, which saw him do well in business. She sends Heckenburg down to look into it. He goes straight to the crime scene and pokes around, finding what turns out to be one of Lansing’s teeth by the road. It confirms Gail Piper’s suspicions – how did an unburned tooth end up away from the crash site?
Arriving at the local police station in Surrey, Heck is paired with young DC Gail Honeyford. Young, beautiful and cynical, she’s already looked into Lansing’s death. They find out that two weeks before he died, Lansing narrowly escaped drowning while out fishing. A model aircraft swooped out of the sky and nearly took his head off. He fell into the water and had to be rescued. The crash looks even more like murder. Heck and Honeyford look into other bizarre deaths in the area and query whether or not they were accidents. The case of the spiders in the nicked car comes up, as does a farmer who accidentally fell onto the nozzle of a compressed air tank, broke it open and inflated himself like a giant pig’s bladder.
That’s a taste of the mystery, but in between times Paul Finch shows off his cop show background by packing the plot with all sorts of action. Heck has a chase and fistfight with a local poacher who’s been spying on them. He nearly drowns when an unsafe bridge he’s driving across collapses. And he and Honeyford are the stars of an insane chase through London involving a huge beer delivery truck driven by a machete-wielding gang member whose crew have just attempted to rob a pub. There are stakeouts, more murders disguised as accidents, and there’s a touch of sex too. Fans of Lee Child, Tim Weaver and Peter Lovesey will certainly enjoy Finch’s approach to crime writing – this book is highly entertaining.
It’s not all cut and thrust. In DC Honeyford’s back story we find a case of serious sexual harassment and domestic abuse. In another sub-plot, the mental health of offenders is touched on – albeit very briefly. Finch shows he’s not afraid to try and explore some of the other issues relating to policing, however it’s not done too seriously nor with much depth. Heck is all about getting the collar. If it meant breaking a case, he’d sooner punch a fellow copper than pick away at the psyche of a criminal or a colleague. Yes, he’s macho and yes, he can seem impregnable.
Here and there we are fed too much information than the plotting requires, but equally you won’t have to read the four prior books to understand Heck. There are places where you may feel you’ve been led and/or deceived too deliberately by the author – particularly when you discover who’s behind the murders. Still, Hunted is a gripping read with great action, and Finch’s writing is very visual and immediate.
CFL Rating: 4 Stars