Starting back in 1986 with a killer first line:
The boy loved his parents more than anything on this Earth. And so he had to kill them.
I have a fondness for books that stretch back to the past for the focus of a current investigation, and this is a bloody one, has its roots very firmly in a time and a place that for most of those who were present, would rather forget! The setting for the past is a children’s home and this one is of the particularly grim variety where the children are overseen by a slovenly couple under the management of a man Gordon Tallis, whose love of power is palpable.
In the present DI Ray Drake and DS Flick Crowley begin their investigation with a triple murder of a particularly horrible nature. Ray Drake has recently been widowed and has a difficult relationship with his daughter April while Flick is newly promoted and with her boss insisting on watching her every move in this investigation, deeply worried that he is already regretting his backing of her promotion. The interaction between the two is puzzling with Fick moving away from her by the book investigating style to the more intuitive one that Drake uses. She can’t understand quite why Drake is so dismissive of her thoughts, with the pair pulling in opposite directions the reader can’t help but wonder is Drake going to pull rank on his newly promoted DS.
There is tension in the past and present scenes, from the first to the last page; this is not a book to choose to relax with, you need to pay attention, close attention. What the writer gives us is a wonderful array of characters who feel realistic. We learn about the mundanity of some of our victim’s lives, many of whom are not the morally upstanding citizens that deserve unreserved sympathy for their plight, but Mark Hill’s pen doesn’t stint in bringing them to life; it is easy to see his scriptwriting talent wrought upon these pages. The drudgery of a day in the life of a shelf-stacker spent dreaming about his retirement in Spain, his life planned in expectation of greater rewards in the future was one of the evocative early scenes which bought the man to life – only for my hopes for him to be shot down in metaphorical flames.
Each of the scenes both past and present are well-drawn without underlining the difference in time periods the obvious way by naming popular products and fashions but somehow the ‘feel’ of the past was there, and that’s written by someone who was of a similar age to many of the children in this book! The author has given a real sense of moral ambiguity with all of the characters and that is never harder to do when the natural inclination towards the children depicted is one of sympathy rather than condemnation but the author obviously works to the maxim that our sensibilities are there to be challenged.
This is a seriously well-plotted book and despite this being Mark Hill’s debut novel, the assuredness of his writing is never in doubt. I knew early on that this was going to be a cracking good read, and it was. Bookended by the stunning opening and one of the best finishes to a crime novel I’ve read for a long time this is one writer who has made it onto my ‘must-read’ list of authors, and not many get promoted to that position after a single book.
I received an ARC of The Two O’clock Boy from the publisher Little, Brown Book Group UK, and in return this unbiased review is my thanks to them.