Transworld Publishers| 8 March 2018|392 p|e-book|Review copy|5*
Disconnected from his history and careless of his future, Detective Aidan Waits has resigned himself to the night shift. An endless cycle of meaningless emergency calls and lonely dead ends. Until he and his partner, Detective Inspector Peter ‘Sutty’ Sutcliffe, are summoned to The Palace, a vast disused hotel in the centre of a restless, simmering city.
There they find the body of a man. He is dead.
And he is smiling.
The tags have been removed from the man’s clothes. His teeth filed down and replaced. Even his fingertips are not his own. Only a patch sewn into the inside of his trousers gives any indication as to who he was, and to the desperate last act of his life…
But even as Waits puts together the pieces of this stranger’s life, someone is sifting through the shards of his own.
When the mysterious fires, anonymous phone calls and outright threats escalate, he realises that a ghost from his own past haunts his every move.
And to discover the smiling man’s identity, he must finally confront his own.
I wasn’t sure I wanted to read this book, the second Aidan Waits novel, as I haven’t read the first book, Sirens. But I was interested by the description of The Smiling Man and the fact that the books are set in Manchester. So, I thought I’d see what it’s like – and I needn’t have worried as it reads well as a stand-alone book. Be aware though (if this bothers you), there are some violent scenes, and one strand of the story concerning a particularly loathsome and brutal character called Bateman and an eight year old boy and his little sister is very chilling.
Aidan Waits is a Detective Constable working night shifts with Detective Inspector Peter Sutcliffe, known as Sutty. They don’t like each other – at all. The only thing they have in common is that they each try to make things as difficult as possible for the other. But strangely their partnership gets results.
The book description sets out the main strand of the plot – the police investigation of the death of the ‘Smiling Man‘ at disused hotel, The Palace, the question of his identity and the motive for killing him, but there are various other strands woven into the narrative that make this a fascinating and complex novel. Waits and Sutty are plain clothes detectives on patrol duty in the city dealing with fires set in steel dustbins when they’re called to Owens Park, student halls of residence, to a complaint of sexual harassment and threats to post a sex video on the internet. Then there’s the mystery of the death of Cherry, a sex worker fished out of the Manchester Canal, and the further complications caused by the owners of the hotel, Natasha and Freddie, at loggerheads over the sale of the hotel.
But overarching the cases he is working on is Waits’ troubled background, some of which I assume was in Sirens. In this book we learn so much about what has made him into such a disturbed and complex character and why other police officers don’t trust him or want to work with him. He plays very close to the edge and has little regard for his own safety.
The location is superb – Manchester in a heatwave – students taking degree courses they’ll never pay off, muggings and drug pushers and the ‘missing missing’ – people who disappear but are never reported missing, so they’re not in any databases. No one is looking for them and if they’re found dead there’s no way of finding out who they were. It’s as they they had dropped off the face of the earth, almost as though they had never been born. Or, as in the case of the ‘Smiling Man‘, their identity has been deliberately obfuscated.
I was totally convinced by Knox’s storytelling, fully absorbed in the characters and intrigued by the various strands, only gradually seeing how they were connected. I had little idea about the culprit until the end. Quite simply, I loved this book and will read more by Joseph Knox, starting with Sirens.
My thanks to Transworld Publishers for a review copy via NetGalley.