Source: Review copy
Publication: 23 June 2022 from Allison and Busby
My thanks to Helen Richardson and Allison and Busby for an advance copy for review
How far would you go?
The murder of a promising footballer, son of Brighton’s highest-ranking police officer, means Detective Superintendent Jo Howe has a complicated and sensitive case on her hands. The situation becomes yet more desperate following devastating blackmail threats.
Howe can trust no one as she tracks the brutal killer in a city balanced on a knife edge of vigilante action and a police force riven with corruption.
There’s something pretty damned chilling about a former Chief Superintendent writing about systemic corruption in the force he used to work for. Graham Bartlett now makes his living advising some high ranking authors about police procedure and his testimonials are legend. He’s also written two non-fiction books, so his credentials are excellent.
So a debut novel from this expert was always going to be a ‘must-read’ and it does not disappoint. It is shot through with realism. Bartlett shows us a Brighton rife with drugs, violence and corruption. Head of Major Crimes in Sussex Police, Detective Superintendent Joanne Howe is struggling to keep her head above water. Police numbers are being cut to the bone, drugs are flooding the city and crime, especially violent crime, is on the up. She’s fighting a losing battle against budget cuts and of course she has to withstand a daily round of misogyny.
Then the unthinkable happens. Harry Cooke, a rising star in the footballing world who has just been offered his first professional contract, is stabbed to death. Harry is the son of Chief Superintendent Phil Cooke whose wife has terminal cancer. The obligation to find Harry’s killer and wrap this case up tightly is keenly felt but there’s more to this case than meets the eye.
Meanwhile, in the background, a new business is doing a roaring trade. This business is stepping in where the police have failed and they are proving to be remarkably effective. The police keep turning up in response to reports of violent crimes only to find that the problems has..well…gone away.
A group of vigilantes is proving remarkably effective at dealing with problems, though their services come at a price. This well-organised group is slowly penetrating all levels of the police force and their agenda is focussed and utterly ruthless.
Graham Bartlett portrays a Brighton riven with crime and a Police Force on its knees and highly susceptible to corrupt influences. The ability of the vigilantes to manipulate and inveigle their way into the highest echelons of the Police service is remarkable.
Detective Inspector Bob Heaton is investigating Harry Cooke’s murder when he is attacked by a suspect. Utilising his baton, he hits the suspect hard and causes his death. Meanwhile Howe is realising that the vigilante group is at work and sets up a ‘sting’ operation to catch them at work. This too goes very wrong and Howe finds herself suffering the ire of her Chief Constable.
When Phil Cooke stands for election to the post of Police and Crime Commissioner, people are surprised but even more so when he starts to put controversial plans into action.
Bartlett does a good job of weaving a number of threads together to show us a complex but related tapestry of wrongdoing. There are multiple perspectives in a full cast of characters and the reader will find a need to concentrate on the many and diverse villains running through this book.
Graham Bartlett’s novel is violent, action-packed and pacy. It has an engaging and thought-provoking premise and is not short of evil characters to dislike. He also does a good job of showing us good people in impossible situations and the hard choices they are forced to make.
He also does a great job of showing the pressures that the police are under and makes us think about its core purposes as well as how easy it is to put pressure on a force already on its knees. As the book progresses the action really heats up and the denouement, which is perhaps a little too high-noon for me, offers a suitably grand and explosive ending. Jo Howe is a great character; down to earth, methodical and determined. I’d love to see more of her in future books.
Verdict: An excellent, compelling debut from an author I’d read again.
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Graham Bartlett was a police officer for thirty years and is now a bestselling writer. He rose to become chief superintendent of the Brighton and Hove force as well as its police commander. He entered the Sunday Times Top Ten with his first non-fiction book, Death Comes Knocking – Policing Roy Grace’s Brighton in 2016. He followed that up in 2020 with another non-fiction book, Babes in the Wood. Both these books he co-wrote with international best seller, Peter James. As well as writing, Bartlett is a police procedural and crime advisor helping scores of authors and TV writers (including Peter James, Mark Billingham, Elly Griffiths, Anthony Horowitz, Ruth Ware, Claire McGowan and Dorothy Koomson) achieve authenticity in their drama.