Wait. Peruse the blurb and then we’ll get cracking:
Bristol, 1965. In the dead of winter, a young deaf and dumb woman goes missing without a trace. But the police just don’t care about a West Indian immigrant who is nowhere to be found. Enter Joseph Tremaine ‘JT’ Ellington: a Barbadian ex-cop not long off the boat, a man with a tragic past and a broken heart. When local mogul Earl Linney hires him to track down the missing girl, JT soon finds himself adrift in a murky world of prostitution and kidnapping where each clue reveals yet more mysteries.
What is Linney’s connection to the girl? Have more women gone missing? And what exactly is the Erotica Negro Club? Facing hostility and prejudice as well as the demons he left home to escape, JT must unravel a deadly conspiracy in a dangerous and unfamiliar world
Heartman reads like a love letter to the detective genre. You sense the care the author has put into his novel, the passion behind every word. Specifically, Wright has an instinct for the fact that good crime fiction lay on the tinder sticks of emotion, and that without it it’s a glib and facile thing.
In JT Ellington, Wright has created a higely empathetic and likeable detective. He’s a poor man, world-weary and with a tragic past – your classic good guy – who just wants to do the right thing in the face of the festering corruption and racism he encounters during his search for a missing girl. The dark and dank midwinter of Bristol is contrasted with JT’s former life as a cop in Barbados.
Everything feels grim and shoddy and dark, this is the mid-60s, and yet JT carries with him memories of lost warmth, of lost light, and of the happiness of a lost family. JT isn’t so much a loner, he’s a stranger in an unwelcoming land, and yet he has people who love him and who care for him – JT’s kind and loving community of friends and family is one of the strengths of Heartman.
Of course, there’s some classic detective action. JT uncovers some grim stuff in this, his first book. He gets attacked by dogs and beaten-up – in these days of implacable fictional tough guys it’s good to welcome once again a vulnerable man who must survive on his wits – and he must face harsh truths.
This is not a novel without its problems, I think. The prose can meander, and I have to say that I really didn’t like Wright’s fastidious phonetic presentation of the Bajan patois of JT and his friends, which I felt at times caused his characters to stumble awkwardly towards caricature.
But his love of the genre is obvious, and Ellington is a gentle character with with a bright fictional future ahead of him – I understand that Wright is already working on Ellington’s second adventure. There’s real atmosphere to the writing, of period detail, and an overwhelming feeling of displacement. Somewhere in a parallel universe, perhaps, JT is a happy man, living the life he should have had before it all went wrong. In this world he’s the wrong man in the wrong place, and he’s hanging on by his fingertips.
It’s the atmosphere of Heartman that stays with you when you’ve put it down, the draughty sills, the bare light bulbs, the knackered pub furniture and dirty snow smeared across cobblestones – in sharp contrast to the aching golden light that JT’s heart throws out. This gentle thread of melancholy powers the whole book.
M.P. Wright knows that crime writing shouldn’t just thrill, but also make you feel.
Many thanks to Black And White Publishing for the review copy of the book. M.P. Wright gives us the intel on the fascinating story of Heartman’s journey to publication later in the week, so look out for that!