Monday, November 12, 2012

Review of A Dark Place to Die by Ed Chatterton (Arrow, 2012)

When Stevie White returns to Liverpool, the city where he was born shortly before his mother emigrated to Australia, he never expected to be tied to a scaffold pole, tortured and burned alive on Crosby beach, a new addition to Antony Gormley’s art work ‘Another Place’.  DI Frank Keane is first to the scene, quickly joined by the ambitious DI Emily Harris.  Somewhat awkward collaborators, they both sense the murder is the work of one of the city’s notorious drugs gangs but have little evidence to go on.  As they slowly try to solve the case on the other side of the world Keane’s former boss, Menno Koopman, is enjoying retirement with his partner, Zoe, running a coffee business on Australia’s east coast.  He has no desire to return to Liverpool, but Stevie is Koopman’s son, the product of a teenage fling and he feels compelled to travel back and seek justice.  Keane is conflicted between helping his former boss and keeping him at arm’s length, but Koopman’s presence in the city has started a chain-reaction he can’t control both there and in Australia.

A Dark Place to Die has four standout strengths.  First, the characterization is excellent, with even the minor characters having a well-defined persona.  Second, there is a vivid sense of place both with respect to Liverpool and the various locations in Australia.  Third, Chatterton provides realistic and compelling contextualisation with respect to the drug gangs and trade in both locales.  Fourth, the story is for the most part nicely plotted and well paced, managing to keep two parallel but intertwined plotlines unfolding in sync throughout the book.  As a result, even though the tale is complex and layered it is straightforward to follow.  There is some graphic violence in the telling, but it is necessary to the story.  Despite the positives, the story does start to unravel a little toward the end, with at least one too many plot twists for my liking (in a tale full of twists).  Nevertheless, A Dark Place to Die is a strong start to a new series.  As a final aside: I have no idea why the cover shows a dungeon, or why the tag line is ‘no escape, no rescue, no mercy’; they totally fail to capture the essence of the book.  The Australian cover which uses a Gormley statue, with the tagline ‘killing the messenger was only the beginning’ is much more appropriate. 

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