This is the third installment in author and screenwriter Dougie Brimson’s crime novels involving former football hooligan, now London car dealer Billy Evans. The word ‘former’ is misleading. Despite Billy’s current respectability, can he ever really escape his thuggish former colleagues, the unending, squint-eyed regard of the coppers, and the lure of capering outside the law?
The story starts when Billy’s best friend, Graham Hawkins, surprises a pair of would-be thieves in his garage. Badly beaten, Hawk nevertheless breaks the arm of one of his attackers. Billy arrives at Accident & Emergency and, helped by a sympathetic nurse, Claire, sees his mate for the last time.
The kid with the broken arm is Ashley Bennett. He says Hawk attacked first, and with Hawk dead and no witnesses, there’ll be no prosecution. At Hawk’s wake, two well-dressed strangers ask Billy for a meeting. Former Royal Military Police, they have a proposition for him.
Billy is dating the friendly nurse Claire, and of two minds about that. He’s steered clear of women since the death of his wife in a roadway accident. But now Claire. He treats her to a luxury weekend, and the pair of them are well away from London when Ashley Bennett is found in South London, knees smashed and fingers crushed.
Jamie Brown is a newspaperman on the celebrity beat. His partner, Lisa, is a detective on the Met’s child abuse team. Jamie has an interview in Birmingham that runs late, and he stops for a nap at a roadway rest stop. When he wakes after midnight, he sees five men wearing black converge on an SUV and drive away.
The next day, he learns that five men broke into the home of Carl Mason, a Coventry man cleared of an attempted sexual assault, his legs and hands injured. Putting together at least three such cases, Jamie asks his editor to let him investigate. It’s a step up, and the editor approves. The police, scattered in different departments across the country, offer surprisingly little cooperation. Nor are the injured thugs willing to speak. Scared.
A conservative MP is loudly complaining about lax law enforcement and political correctness in policing. Because Jamie’s reporting is interpreted as supporting this view, Lisa is angry, the social media response is fearsome, and Jamie suspects he’s being stalked. Then he’s taken to meet Billy Evans.
Jamie believes a vigilante justice campaign is under way. The violent methods of assailants who have escaped the law are being used against them. The likely problems with this idea receive short shrift from Brimson’s characters, though the political aspects ring true. The architects of the vigilante movement want a definite Brexit and a return to the old values: ‘right and wrong, respect for the elderly and our armed forces and good old-fashioned patriotism.’ Who could object? Lots of people.
Brimson’s experience as a screenwriter is evident. He certainly knows how to keep the ‘never a dull moment’ plot accelerating. Jamie’s work relationships and Billy’s growing involvement with Claire add emotional engagement.
Being a screenwriter, however, doesn’t develop a facility with descriptive verbs. For example, Brimson relies heavily on the verb ‘head’. He headed downtown; she headed into the kitchen; he said, heading to the car. The word is used repeatedly on the same page, a times. Screenwriters can rely on actors to interpret and carry out the necessary action, whether it is to march, bounce, stroll, stride, stumble, slip, or stomp. The writer rarely needs to specify. Once I notice a tic like this, it’s a red flag at every repeat.
Nor does Brimson convey much emotion through action, as authors are endlessly advised to do. Instead he names the emotion, as he would for his actors, depending on them to add the nuance. The result is a less rich reading experience. While these things are noticeable to those who enjoy detail and atmosphere, if you’re in the mood for a good, thought-provoking yarn, then In the Know provides plenty of entertainment.
The mystery of Billy’s wife Samantha’s death isn’t resolved here. He believes it was a revenge killing by Irish paramilitaries for his role in crippling a young footballer. Can we look forward to book four?
Also see these ten best crime novels about journalists.
CFL Rating: 3 Stars