Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Review of Down Among the Dead Men by Ed Chatterton (2013, Arrow Books)

Writer Dean Quinner has finally got his wish and The Tunnels, his first movie, has started to shoot in his home city of Liverpool, with Ben Noone, a charismatic Californian, in the lead role.  Working on the shoot is Terry Peters and his nephew, Nicky.  Not long after filming has started Nicky’s parents, suburban dentists, are murdered and the teenager has disappeared.  DCI Frank Keane of Merseyside’s Major Incident Team is assigned the case.  Newly promoted, recently separated and involved in a messy affair with a colleague, Keane is ready to stir things up, but his boss wants a softly, softly approach given the value of the movie industry to Liverpool, the celebrity status of one of the movie’s investors, and the interest of the media.  Still getting used to office politics in the upper echelons of the force and not known for his softly approach to cases, when another body linked to the film is discovered Keane continues to blunder on certain he has the perpetrator in his sights despite the lack of evidence and warnings to drop his line of enquiry.

Down Amongst the Dead Men is a book of two halves.  The first half is set in Liverpool and is a very good, straightforward police procedural.  Chatterton immerses the reader in the world of DCI Frank Keane, DS Em Harris and their colleagues and sets up an intriguing puzzle involving the death of two dentists and the disappearance of their son, who was working on a movie shoot.  The characterization and social interactions are nicely portrayed and the story is riveting and compelling with a nice blend of personal tribulations, police politics, and difficult investigation.  The second half shifts the action to Los Angeles and becomes much more thriller-like in its style, with Keane operating at the edge or outside of the procedures that gave him power but boxed him in in Liverpool.  The plot links Keane up with Menno Koopman, his former boss who also made an appearance in the first book, who has flown in from Australia to help with the investigation.  Whilst this part of the book is gripping, culminating in a tense finale, it is also less believable in substance given its political turn and presence of a shadowy organisation and I just didn’t buy the ending.  If Chatterton had found a way of wrapping up the story in Liverpool this would have been a five star read for me.  Nevertheless, it was engaging and entertaining read despite the shift in location and style and I’m very much looking forward to the next DCI Keane case. 

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