Written by Dylan H Jones — Anglesey in North Wales may sound like an idyllic destination, but make no mistake. Anglesey Blue is not a cosy mystery with a charming coastal setting. The ‘blue’ in the title does not refer to its seascape, but to a potent new drug which is being ruthlessly introduced to the island community. In this first book in what will become a series featuring sardonic Welshman DI Tudor Manx, the author does not focus on the picturesque, timeless aspects of Anglesey. Instead, you will discover trouble in paradise, with bang up-to-date issues such as drug dealing, disaffected youth and brutal murders.
Manx is the proverbial prodigal son returned to his homeland. He could not wait to escape the island in his youth but now, in his late 30s, he chooses to ignore well-worn sayings like, ‘The past is a different country, you can never go back’ or, even starker, ‘No man is a prophet in his own country.’ So he’s returned.
The truth is he had no choice. No-one else will have him, after he was involved in a bit of a scandal following an investigation into a child trafficking ring during his time with the Metropolitan Police. His boss, DCI Ellis Canton, is willing to allow him a bit of leeway but warns Manx that his “prickness tolerance is running pretty low” and that he doesn’t like any maverick, Lone Ranger heroics.
This paves the way for a solid police procedural, with plenty of emphasis on door-to-doors, systematic deductions and meticulous follow-up, as well as the challenges of resources in an area which up until now has had low crime rates. Manx has to come to terms with his small and relatively inexperienced team, made up of colourful characters that the author seems to have great fun describing. There is the cynical Nader, who views Manx with distrust because he wanted the job himself; ambitious and bright rookie Delyth Morris, nicknamed Morris Minor because of her diminutive stature; well-informed but somewhat manipulative forensic scientist Bevan; his glamorous wife; and SuperNaan, the world’s most unlikely hack-the-hacker computer specialist.
The island of Anglesey exerts a strong pull on Manx, despite the soggy weather, the narrow-mindedness of some of the people he encounters and strained relations with his own family. The rugged coastline has remained virtually unchanged since the days when first the Romans and then the Vikings attempted to conquer it. There are plenty of mysterious monuments attesting to its Druid past.
When a series of killings shatter the quiet community, it is tempting to think that there are some links to pagan rituals, Celtic myths or historical events. The first body seems to have been crucified, the second is burnt at a stake – what message is the killer trying to send? Then the suicide of a local doctor complicates matters even further. You will have an advantage over the police initially, seeing some of the background, in particular how petty criminal Shanni is co-opted into a plan to distribute the new drug all over the island. But it’s unclear whether this has anything to do with the murders and, for a small community, Anglesey certainly seems to furnish plenty of potential suspects.
There is a fresh feel to this Welsh novel; it’s certainly quite different in tone to most Tartan noir stories we’ve encountered. The dialogue is witty and full of local colour and I particularly enjoyed the references to the second in line to the throne and his lovely wife, who are resident on the island at the time of the story, as well as the banter between the members of the investigative team. Although it is somewhat uneven in places – as if it can’t quite make up its mind whether it is a darker gangster novel or more light-hearted – Anglesey Blue is an entertaining read and a promising start to the series. Fans of Douglas Skelton, Keith Nixon or Paul D Brazill, and those who generally like their crime fiction served with a side-dish of humour, this will be a blast.
CFL Rating: 4 Stars