Here’s an author and former Crime Fiction Lover contributor who has carved himself a niche in the world of Brit Noir, thanks to his Margate-based series featuring hitman-cum-tramp Konstantin Boryakov. We’ve previously reviewed I’m Dead Again. Now he’s embarking on a new series of crime thrillers, this time featuring a police officer as protagonist and also set in Margate, Kent.
Meet DS Solomon Gray, a man who attracts trouble like a magnet picks up iron filings. As the book opens, Gray is in a police interview room, on the wrong side of the table, being questioned about the disappearance of his six-year-old son, Tom. As a birthday treat, Gray took his boy to the fair and foolishly allowed him to ride the Ghost Train, alone. The child was never seen again.
Ten years later, and Solomon is still living with the repercussions of his fateful decision. In the intervening years his wife, Kate, has committed suicide and his daughter, Hope, is now old enough to have decided she wants nothing to do with him. Tom haunts his thoughts and dreams and every time an unidentified body is discovered he is torn between wanting it to be his boy and hoping that it isn’t.
So it is when we first encounter Gray at work, called to the scene of a possible suicide. The teenage male victim is the age that Tom would now be, and once more Gray must run the gamut of emotions before settling down to do the job that keeps him on the right side of sanity. There are clear signs that the boy’s flat was being used as for illicit sex, but very little other evidence is uncovered. Until a tatty old mobile phone is found down the back of a chair in the sparsely furnished living room. It contains just two phone numbers, and one of them belongs to Gray…
It’s the first indication that our protagonist is not as clean cut as he might appear, but what is Gray hiding, and why? Enter the shadowy Pennance, who seems to have some kind of hold over Gray. And when he eventually makes an appearance, there’s a surprise in store for us all.
Gray is a man who has garnered a lot of sympathy among his workmates over the years, but he’s made some pretty dangerous enemies too. He’s a guy who has few friends, and his tendency to fly off the handle means people keep him at arm’s length. His late wife was heavily involved with the local church and although he’s lost his faith, the place still seems to draw him back. Then the vicar asks him for help, and shortly after is killed. It’s added pressure to a man who appears close to exploding. Can Gray cope?
There are myriad threads to this tightly woven tale and at times it is difficult to see the whole picture. Murder, mystery and some decidedly shady dealings keep things rolling along nicely, but the main issue with Dig Two Graves is Gray himself. I really wanted to like him, but he has few redeeming features.
Where this book succeeds is in its gruesome menagerie of supporting performers. Keith Nixon is king of the quirky, and he has plenty to play with here. Favourites in a crowded cast list include snotty Sylvia, the boss’s supercilious assistant; the delicious Tanya, coffee shop owner and object of desire for Gray; odious local journalist Ed Scully; and holier-than-thou Alice Newbould, best friend to Gray’s late wife. I smiled when our old friend Konstantin made a cameo appearance and I also enjoyed the snappy dialogue I’ve come to expect from a Keith Nixon novel.
Dig Two Graves is a smartly conceived introduction to a new series, and there are a good number of loose ends just waiting to tempt you to continue the journey.
CFL Rating: 4 Stars