Tom Carney, true crime author, keeps receiving letters imploring him for help. These are no ordinary pleas, the writer no ordinary person. The letters are from convicted killer Richard Bell who is languishing in prison for murdering his lover. Bell claims he’s innocent and believes Carney can solve the mystery. The letter is persuasive, but Bell is a killer. Tom can’t help but take the case and he begins to look into the circumstances.
Detective Ian Bradshaw is trying to identity of a corpse found in a scrapyard in Durham. It is so badly disfigured by fire the police can only determine it is female. She’s nicknamed The Burned Girl. The ownership of the scrapyard is murky, and it takes Bradshaw some time and some digging, but the police believe the trail may lead back to one Jimmy McCree, the most dangerous gangster in the city.
At first they think the woman was the missing daughter of councillor Frank Jarvis, once leader of the Newcastle City Council. Her disappearance driving Jarvis to step down from his position to focus on finding her. But the body’s physical characteristics do not match. So who is it? And why was she murdered?
Helen Norton is a journalist pulling on the thread of a corruption story. Alan Camfield is a rare success story in the deprived region, a self-made millionaire who used dubious employment practices on behalf of Newcastle council to get rich. Camfield holds a meeting in an upmarket restaurant, which Norton witnesses. He is joined by the new council leader, Joe Lynch. A new riverside property development is about to be put out to tender, so it seems that Camfield and Lynch are attempting to manipulate the process. Then they’re joined by none other than Jimmy McCree.
Norton is spotted by the trio and makes her escape, but soon she is being watched and getting harassed. Her newspaper editor winds up dead in a car accident and she’s warned it’ll be her next, unless she backs off.
Meantime Bradshaw continues to investigate the case of the burned girl, his activities leading him to Meadowlands – an institution for ‘difficult’ girls. All is not as it seems, in fact the girls are being used for the ends of others. And one of the girls has recently disappeared.
Howard Linskey is a rising star in British crime fiction. His early work was a trio of gritty thrillers featuring David Blake. Then came No Name Lane, a police procedural with Detective Ian Bradshaw and the journalists Tom Carney and Helen Norton as the main protagonists. He talked to us about his work in this 2012 interview.
Behind Dead Eyes is a step up by this already accomplished author. The three investigative strands are deftly woven together. Having so many players acting across these arcs could easily have gone wrong. Even in writing this review there are a lot of names to cover, but the author manages to keep the pace and tension high throughout the novel. The result is a real page-turner with plenty of questions to keep you guessing. It’s intelligent, smart and brightly bleak in describing death in the ‘grim’ North East. There’s corruption, sleaze, exploitation and murder, all undertaken in the name of ego and profit.
The lead characters themselves also take a positive step along the road. They are all strong in their own right and each lends a credibility to the narrative. All have different back stories, but are equally keen to determine the truth, regardless of personal cost, sometimes to the detriment of themselves and high cost to others.
However, we shouldn’t forget the supporting cast (again there are many). McCree the scary gangster who’s prepared to do whatever is necessary to make money and stay out of jail, the sleazy manager of Meadowlands and the seemingly clean Jarvis whose daughter is missing.
This is a worthy and developing series and, hopefully, we will see plenty more from Carney, Norton and Bradshaw along with, of course, Howard Linskey.
For more crime fiction set in the England’s North East, you can check our Gazetteer for the region. Behind Dead Eyes is released 19 May.
CFL Rating: 5 Stars