Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Review of Angels Passing by Graham Hurley (Orion, 2002)

Fourteen year old Helen Bassam has plunged twenty three stories to her death at the base of a residential tower block.  In the months before her death she’d gone off the rails, reacting badly to her parents break-up.  It’s not clear though why Helen was in a strange part of town or whether she jumped or was pushed.  DI Joe Faraday starts to investigate but immediately runs into issues of resourcing and interference from his career focused boss.  Competing for manpower is the head of the Major Crimes Squad after a local lowlife is found hanging from a tree wearing women’s knickers.  Dragged into his team is DC Paul Winters, a cop with a knack for solving cases but a reputation for not always doing so in an professional manner.  Both cases plunge Faraday, Winters and their colleagues into Portsmouth’s netherworlds of abject poverty, broken families, feral and abandoned children, thieving and selling stolen goods, and brutal organised fights.

Hurley is probably the foremost British proponent of gritty, social realist police procedurals.  His books vividly capture the methods, personalities and personal relationships, and the politics of policing, as well as the people, places and situations the police deal with on a daily basis.  Hurley provides a warts and all portrayal of Portsmouth, its micro-geographies and social divisions, and its bleak underbelly.  In Angels Passing, the fourth book in the DI Faraday series, the tale weaves together two main plot lines, one concerning the death of a teenage girl, the other the murder of a low-level criminal.  Where the book excels is in charting the police investigations, noting their complexities and their inherent internal tensions and games, in the characterisation of police, victims and criminals, and in the sense of place.  Both main plotlines were interesting, coupled with a nice subplot concerning Faraday’s domestic life, though the denouement felt a little too contrived.  Nonetheless, Angels Passing is a compelling, gripping and gritty read, though probably not recommended by Portsmouth’s tourist offices.  

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