Chatterton, Ed - 'Down Among the Dead Men'
Ed Chatterton bounces back onto the British crime scene with another gripping thriller featuring DCI Frank Keane, introduced to us in the brilliant debut novel, A DARK PLACE TO DIE. Opening with the horrific murder of a respectable couple in a Liverpool suburb, and the disappearance of their teenage son, Chatterton immerses his likeable detective in the pursuance of an incredibly narcissistic killer, taking us into the strange labyrinthine world of the Joseph Williamson tunnels that provides a particularly sinister feel in terms of location, and then a relocation to the bright lights of Los Angeles in search of said killer.
As in A DARK PLACE TO DIE, Chatterton uses this plot device of transporting the action across continents (Australia in the previous outing) for Keane to pursue his quarry, and although I wasn't entirely convinced by some of the strands that this produced, I found with a slight suspension of disbelief, my attention was still held. This is due to the fact that the pace of the whole affair is unrelenting, and there is an immediacy and sense of urgency about the prose that gets a hold of the reader, compelling you to read this quickly. Fuelled by the great characterisation, in particular of our everyman hero DCI Frank Keane, Chatterton has created a police officer with an appeal that doesn't rely on the usual cliches, and the shifting and complicated nature of his relationship with his sidekick, the marvellous DI Emma Harris, adds another dimension to the plot. As in A DARK PLACE TO DIE, Chatterton pulls no punches in terms of language, violence and sexual reference, although this didn't feel quite as wonderfully sordid as the first book. The interactions between the police protagonists, in particular, is infused with the natural wit so characteristic of Liverpool, so some of the darkness is offset with some mordantly funny exchanges, adding to the general fluidity of the dialogue and the interactions between the characters. Indeed, it is probably this aspect of both Chatterton's books that holds the greatest appeal for me as a reader, as his observation of the weaknesses of human character is always spot on, and his characterisation across gender and social class always has an authentic feel in terms of speech and behaviours. I feel like I know these characters intimately, and this extends to the fascinating and murderous killer that Keane pursues throughout the book, with an inherent balance of charm and evil that makes for a compelling bad guy, seeking to elude our dogged detective.
So, in conclusion, an extremely readable follow up to the superb A DARK PLACE TO DIE. Although less dark, sleazy and visceral than Chatterton's debut, that really set the first book apart, I enjoyed the overall plot and catching up with DCI Frank Keane. Just don't call him Roy…