I picked Russ Thomas’s last novel on NetGalley because I noticed it was set in Sheffield. Since I live just across the river from South Yorkshire, Sheffield is our nearest big city. It’s my ‘go to’ place for the theatre, concerts and decent shopping. In fact Meadowhall was vital when I was a teenager, because we were pre-internet and if you didn’t shop further afield you would find yourself at a club in the same Dorothy Perkins top as everyone else. So my introduction to DS Tyler was actually the second book in the series called Nighthawking and it was set around the Winter Gardens. I found myself drawn in by the case being investigated, but also by Adam himself. He’s a rather complicated character with a difficult childhood and the trauma of finding his father hanging in the family home when he came home from school. Subsequent investigations into Richard Tyler’s death concluded it was a suicide, brought about by corrupt dealings with organised crime and the fear of being discovered. As if that’s not hard enough to live down, Adam’s godmother and the woman who brought him up is now DCI Diane Jordan. Adam is either treated with suspicion for being corrupt like his father or for being the DCI’s pet. Finally, there’s his sexuality, which shouldn’t have a bearing on his work relationships, but probably does in a macho environment like the police force.
Since I had organised time to spare this December to read freely – a true Christmas gift for a book blogger – I decided to read both the first and the latest instalments of the series. In the first novel, Firewatching, Adam picks up a case that’s both cold and red hot. A body is found bricked up in the walls of a country house, a house that’s lain empty since the disappearance of the owner several years before. From the injuries to the fingers of the body, it’s clear the victim was walled in alive. DI Dogget is on board for the murder case so Adam is called in to work alongside him. However, it’s soon clear that the case does have a connection to Adam and he’s soon hopelessly compromised. Matters in his personal life also become tangled in the case, but most disturbing is that the reader knows someone close to Adam is not what they seem. They’re a blogger, but their muse is fire. How far will they go to entertain their readers? This is a fantastic start to a series, managing to establish a character and his back story, while still presenting a solid and tricky crime to solve. I loved the two elderly ladies linked to the big house, living close by in their little bungalow. They have lived together nearly all of their lives, after a friendship cemented by helping out in the horror of the Blitz where fire destroyed large swathes of London. Adam’s friend was also interesting, a woman civilian in the station who wants to get him involved in the LGBTQ+ group and improve his social life. She is dragging him out pubbing and clubbing when she can persuade him. Police officers have to tread very carefully though in their local pubs and clubs. You never know who you might meet. This is an incredible Russian doll of a case with one crime inside another needing to solved before they get to the truth of the house’s terrible history.
The third and latest novel, Cold Reckoning, is now available in paperback and starts with a very effective cold isolated country walk. Matilda Darke is escaping the claustrophobic house she shares with her mum and the caring role she has now her mum has fibromyalgia. It’s a clear, crisp morning near the lake and Matilda hears a gunshot. Making her way home she stumbles across a man coming out of a cabin. Neither expected the other to be there, but his cold hard stare sends an immediate chill through Matilda and she knows this man means her harm. So she runs and never stops to even look behind her. This opening leaves us asking so many questions. Was this where the gunshot came from? Was she right to be scared? Does the man know Matilda and her walking routine, or was she just in the wrong place at the wrong time? Adam’s life is also upside down, because DCI Diane Jordan, his godmother, has gone missing. This is so out of character he knows something is terribly wrong and with the search for her on his mind he’s called on to help DI Doggett with a very strange case. In a lakeside cabin there are signs of a struggle and blood spatter consistent with a gunshot wound, but there’s no body. Nearby though, a body is suspended in a frozen lake. The man has no wounds and has been dead a lot longer than this lake has been frozen. How do these two things fit together or are they a complete coincidence?
I thought this latest novel was clever, not just the case which again strays close to home for Adam, but the details of the characterisation. From their rather gruff and begrudging start back in the first novel Doggett and Tyler have become a team. There’s a trust that’s built between them and they are keeping a lot of information close to their chests, the knowledge of a possible conspiracy between the police, local dignitaries and organised crime. It might even have a bearing on Adam’s father’s death, but there’s still a lot to unravel. Their close conversations and sudden silences when others enter the room has been noticed. DC Rabbani has come a long way since Tyler seconded her to CID in the first novel. She has great instincts, is good with people and she’s furious that the other two members of the team have been keeping something from her. So furious that she could be persuaded to keep the acting Chief Constable in the loop about their suspicions. Rabbani wants to be part of the team, and although the two detectives only want to protect her, she sees their secrecy as a lack of trust. Tyler is a conundrum. Seeing him try to take steps towards improving his mental health is great, but he can only let some of his guard down. He’s also not learned a lesson about keeping his private life and working life separate. By this third instalment I felt like I’d really come to know these characters and care about them. Added to that, the cold cases really are complex, taking us back into the past and into situations that people have tried to leave behind. Witnesses are reluctant and when they’re being asked to remember twenty years ago their memories can be shaky. DI Tyler is a flawed hero, but he does want to find the truth and bring justice to those who have been wronged. However far back he has to dig to find the answers. Im now looking forward to our fourth instalment.
Meet the Author
RUSS THOMAS was born in Essex, raised in Berkshire and now lives in Sheffield. After a few ‘proper’ jobs (among them: pot-washer, optician’s receptionist, supermarket warehouse operative, call-centre telephonist, and storage salesman) he discovered the joys of bookselling, where he could talk to people about books all day. Firewatching is his debut novel, followed by Nighthawking and Cold Reckoning.