Paul Finch’s latest novel is a standalone thriller, but like his bestselling Heck series, One Eye Open is a police procedural. On the face of it, the traffic police might not seem the most promising division to write a thriller in, but Finch has once again produced a top notch example of British commercial crime fiction which his many fans will enjoy.
The story kicks into gear with the discovery of a crashed Ford Mondeo which has come off the A12 between Ipswich and Colchester. The vehicle must have been travelling at some speed since it has left the road entirely and is caught in some nearby trees. Two passengers, a man and a woman, both in their mid-30s, are unconscious inside. A bundle of cash, neatly wrapped and thrown some distance from the car is the first sign that this is no simple accident.
DS Lynda Hagen of the Serious Collision Investigation Unit is put in charge of the case. In practice, this means keeping the traffic moving in a busy area, and determining if there was any criminality involved. Usually this means dangerous driving or inebriation, rarely is there a need for the kind of investigation that detectives normally engage in. This aspect of the job has always chafed with Lynda, and together with the exploits of Don, her husband and a retired copper of the old school, it has left her professionally frustrated.
Incidentally, the domestic scenes between Lynda and Don are no mere afterthought, but a well-written evocation of a marriage tested, but not broken, by depression. They serve her character and the plot in important ways. Finch knows the importance of an engaging protagonist, and Lynda is a pleasure to be around.
The aforementioned cash, and other irregularities get Lynda’s attention; neither passenger carries identification, the Mondeo is a clone, effectively untraceable with its VIN number etched off, and bullet holes are subsequently discovered in the surrounding trees. Lynda’s long wished for chance to get her teeth in to a proper investigation has finally arrived.
The ensuing investigation, written in the present and handled with skill, forms the first narrative timeline. A second storyline, beginning approximately a month earlier, reveals the events leading up to the crash. As this story progresses, the two will meet in an increasingly action-packed final third of the novel.
Elliott Wade, once the golden boy of Formula One motor racing, has found his circumstances so diminished that he has had to put his driving skills to use as a getaway man in armed robberies. This time he is working for Jim and Jo Naboth, leaders of an Ipswich firm and the target is an armoured car transferring valuable property between two sights. Elliott has some ambivalence about his role, and his wife Harri even more so, but when the job goes south, Elliott realises too late that he has missed the opportunity to get out.
Like the Jack Reacher and Harry Bosch novels, there is really nothing new in any of this, but Finch is just as much a master of his beat as Lee Child or Michael Connelly. For a mainstream propulsive thriller, with enough characterisation to get your attention, and a lean, driven plot to keep it, then look no further than One Eye Open.
CFL Rating: 4 Stars