Source: Review copy
Publication: 19th March 2020 from Quercus
It started with a splash. Jimmy, a homeless veteran grappling with PTSD, did his best to pretend he hadn’t heard it – the sound of something heavy falling into the Tyne at the height of an argument between two men on the riverbank. Not his fight.
Then he sees the headline: GIRL IN MISSING DAD PLEA. The girl, Carrie, reminds him of someone he lost, and this makes his mind up: it’s time to stop hiding from his past. But telling Carrie, what he heard – or thought he heard – turns out to be just the beginning of the story.
The police don’t believe him, but Carrie is adamant that something awful has happened to her dad and Jimmy agrees to help her, putting himself at risk from enemies old and new.
But Jimmy has one big advantage: when you’ve got nothing, you’ve got nothing to lose.
I’m very pleased indeed to have been able to read Trevor Wood’s accomplished debut novel, The Man on the Street. His protagonist is one of the best new characters I have read in a while. Jimmy Mullen is a veteran of the Falklands War where he was a leading regulator in the Royal Navy Police. Now though, he is suffering from PTSD, has a broken marriage and a daughter he never sees and has a prison record to boot. He’s living on the streets with only his dog for company and a couple of mates named Gadge and Deano with whom he tends to hang out. Drinking used to help help him control his flashbacks but now he’s knocked that on the head and he’s refused the psychiatric help he’s been offered, so when he witnesses an argument and what looks and sounds like it might have been a murder, he can’t be sure that what he saw was real.
Jimmy is on parole and the last thing he wants is to cause trouble. He has an instinctive dislike of the police so, all things considered, he decides to let sleeping dogs lie. Then he sees the story of a young woman, Carrie Carpenter, in the local newspaper, desperately seeking information about her missing father. Jimmy thinks she looks like his estranged daughter, Kate and reaches out to her to tell her what he saw.
Trevor Wood really makes Jimmy spring to life from the page. His character feels authentic and his flaws and strong points are really well portrayed. The choice of a homeless protagonist enables Wood to show us what life on the streets is like for the invisible underclass who, often through no fault of their own, find themselves with no other alternative.
The banter between the three street wise characters is excellent and Newcastle comes through as a great character in its own right. Jimmy is tenacious and intelligent and he doesn’t back down when it comes to a fight, so when he is pursued, he doesn’t back down. Often the subject of unprovoked violence, Jimmy and his pals have learned that taking the kicks is part of what their lives are about when you are homeless. Though he writes it lightly, the social commentary and bleak depiction of the life of the homelessness is very well depicted.
Verdict: I found this to be a great and completely propulsive read. Brilliant characters, a fascinating and unpredictable mystery and unflinching violence combine with a warm emotional core that make this a terrific read. The plot is excellent and nicely twisted and overall this is an assured and accomplished book with characters that beg for a second outing. I’ll be first in the queue when that happens, as it surely must.
Trevor Wood has lived in Newcastle for twenty-five years and considers himself an adopted Geordie. He’s a successful playwright who has also worked as a journalist and spin-doctor for the City Council. Prior to that he served in the Royal Navy for sixteen years. Trevor holds an MA in Creative Writing (Crime Fiction) from UEA. The Man on the Street is his first novel.