Written by Phil Redmond — He’s a name synonymous with hard-hitting TV dramas like Grange Hill, Brookside and Hollyoaks, but can Phil Redmond cut the mustard as a crime fiction writer? On this showing, the answer is an unhesitating ‘yes’.
I suppose it’s not surprising that the man behind the iconic ‘body under the patio’ storyline in Brookside Close and the explosive (literally) Christmas plane crash in Emmerdale should turn his hand to crime novels. And true to form, this book has a plethora of viewpoints, punchy plotlines and twists before we get to the crunching finale.
Redmond knows a thing or two about characterisation too, and everyone packed into these pages is a real as if you’ve just passed them by on the street of the fictional North West town of Highbridge. Central to it all are two brothers. Joey grew up as a bit of a Jack the Lad but calmed down when he married Natasha and they had a family. These days he is a builder, working down south during the week to keep his wife and kids in the manner to which they’ve become accustomed. Brother Sean was always the golden boy. The class swot who passed his exams and kept his nose clean, he is now the local-boy-made-good, running a successful garden centre business, backed by his wife Sandra.
They make for two very different men united by blood and by tragedy too, because three years ago their sister Janey was killed by a hit and run driver, high on drugs. The culprit has never been caught. It still affects them badly, but the grieving men have different ways of coping. Sean has carved a niche for himself as a public speaker, raising awareness of addiction and fighting a running battle with local politicians. Joey? Well, let’s say he is more of a practical kind of a guy…
Proof of that fact is sitting, camouflaged, upon a hillside overlooking Highbridge, gun sights set firmly on a local fish and chips shop. Mushy peas are the last thing on the mind of Luke Carlton or his pal Matt O’Connor, who is lying beside him in the undergrowth. Luke has a special interest in the case. He is Joey’s old school pal, Janey’s widower and also a highly-trained Army sniper who is now a gun for hire, three factors which make a worrying combination.
So the stage is set for a pretty interesting triple act, and I particularly loved the ‘will they, won’t they?’ aspect to the Luke and Matt strand. However, the weak point is the generic good brother/not-so-good brother scenario so beloved of, dare I say it, Jeffrey Archer and the like. There’s violence but it is tempered with a wry humour and spot-on dialogue that always keeps you on side in a novel that focuses on conscience, community and family ties.
Redmond has spent decades creating memorable ensemble pieces for the small screen and he transfers that skill very well to the print medium. Add Joey’s daughter Tanya and her pals into the maelstrom of story threads, alongside the aforementioned wives, another old school pal who happens to be a highly-regarded police officer, and assorted dodgy goings on involving heavies from the area and much further afield, and you’ve all the makings of a book that will keep you engaged.
Redmond demonstrates the kind of warped thinking required by any crime writer worth their salt in a well thought-out debut that should hold its own in the genre. Welcome to the club, Phil!
CFL Rating: 4 Stars