Down Among The Dead Men – Ed Chatterton

image006So I’m guessing that, if he keeps this up, Ed Chatterton is going to be playing among the top-sellers of the genre. His second novel to feature Liverpool copper DCI Frank Keane is a gripping procedural that delivers menacing thrills.

Here’s the blurb:

At first glance, the bloody crime scene in suburban Liverpool looks like a straightforward murder-suicide – the husband kills the wife and then himself. But what of their missing teenage son, Nicky? Is he their prime suspect or the third victim?

With Nicky’s holiday job on a film being shot in the city bringing unwanted press attention, newly-promoted head of the Merseyside Major Incident Team DCI Frank Keane knows that time is running out to find the boy.

But all too soon the case starts unravelling into one that will test Keane to the limit – and haunt him to his dying day.

There’s a school of thought that prose isn’t important in genre writing if the plot is good enough, but it matters to me, and I found Down Among The Dead Men – written in a pacey present tense – fluid and urgent. The dialogue and characterization are razor-sharp and the set-pieces are gripping. Often dark and disturbing – some of the story takes place in an abandoned subterranean labyrinth beneath Liverpool –  the novel features some wonderfully grim humour, including a tense encounter in a washroom.

The book features a wide variety of well-realised characters, from Keane’s MIT colleagues to scallies, suspicious film-makers, and kingmaker politicians. The narcissistic antagonist is a particularly clever creation. Curiously likeable, he’s a blithe, narcissistic monster.

Keane is a sturdy, empathetic hero. There’s a thin slice of vulnerability running through the old-school Keane and his ex-pat wingman Menno Koopman – men of a certain age, with failed relationships behind them – but Keane is grounded and believable and not  burdened by a bucketload of tiresome idiosyncrasies. On his website, Chatterton entertainingly describes what he didn’t want his protagonist to be when he created the character.

But this is a novel of two halves, Brian. You get the sense that Chatterton is a restless soul. His first Keane novel A Dark Place To Die moved from the grim, rainy streets of Liverpool to Australia, and the second half of this novel takes place in the hard light of Los Angeles.

They say, don’t they, that you should send your novel off in a different direction at about the halfway mark – Down Among The Dead Men almost flips genres, and I felt unhooked following Keane across the ocean. The change of scenery doesn’t faze Chatterton at all, the descriptions of LA are just as vivid as those of Liverpool, but the consequences of Keane’s failure to get his man are amped up to global proportions, and it took a bit of eye-watering determination on the part of this reader to get past this modest copper’s implausible encounters with the US military-industrial complex. Thankfully, the author’s confident writing carried me through the turbulence.

Down Among The Dead Men isn’t for the faint-hearted, there’s some pretty impressive violence in there, but as a writer Chatterton ticks all the right boxes for me. I thought his writing was rock-solid, and it has that indefinable ingredient that separates the men from the boys: a clear voice.

The ending of the novel makes you wonder whether Chatterton is already tiring of Keane. I hope not. I’d like to think he’s only just getting started.

Thank to Midas PR for the review copy of Down Among The Dead Men. I’m excited to say there’ll be an Intel interview with Ed Chatterton later in the week!

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