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Waites, Martyn - 'Bone Machine'
Paperback: 496 pages (Jan. 2007) Publisher: Pocket Books ISBN: 1416502238

In THE MERCY SEAT, Martyn Waites gave us Newcastle Noir: the seamy depths of the city of the "Get Carter" tour, the Lords of Soccer and the famous brown ale, experienced through the eyes of damaged journalist Joe Donovan. Bone Machine is Donovan's second outing. He's recovered from the despair of the loss of his missing young son to the extent that he's set up an agency, Albion, with the characters we met in the last book: Peta the black-belt private detective, Amar the recreational druggie, Jamal the runaway boy, and Sharkey the lawyer, who nobody likes very much but who provides Donovan with work and the book with its various plot elements. Policewoman Diane Natrass and her team also reappear.

The plot is hard-boiled noir all the way through: Serbian white slave-traders; girls going missing and turning up horribly mutilated; a chief suspect, Michael Nell, given to S&M with willing partners - no genre standard is left out. The action starts when Albion is hired by the solicitor acting for Nell to prove his alibi before the police can fit him up. At the same time, Donovan has rescued Katya, a young Serbian woman who has been forced into prostitution by the local Mr Big. What follows is an interleaving plot featuring lots of lowlife, pimps and prostitutes, people-smugglers, and various likely candidates for the Historian, the warped murderer of an increasing number of missing girls.

If you like pulp fiction, you'll like this book. It plays by the rules and pulls no punches in the gradual uncovering of the motivations and roles of the players. It is suitably gruesome and nasty for those that like that kind of thing. However, I found it rather mechanical and the story elements a predictable collection of themes - some of them not convincing even within the rather comic-book (or should I say "graphic novel"?) ambience. The Albion team don't seem to do very much except work on one particular case or experience various personal crises - when a character is not "on page", I can't imagine what they are doing apart from waiting to come on stage again to play his or her part in the main story.

Despite this flatness, there are some good moments, particularly the twist when we discover the identity of "Mr Big". The parts of the book I found most natural and successful are those concerning Joe's lost son. The book ends with a real punch of a cliffhanger - quite predictable but no less effective for that, and probably ensuring that readers will want to return for the next instalment.

Maxine Clarke, England
January 2007

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last updated 27/01/2007 10:07