No Lovelier Death

Graham Hurley

Orion £12.99 ISBN 9780752890060

The most fascinating thing about Graham Hurley’s Faraday series is the way it has edged its way into becoming the Paul Winter series. Faraday was very much in the modern British tradition of depressive cops descended from Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo’s Martin Beck, like Resnick and Rebus, with a bit of the specifically English Inspector Morse thrown in. Faraday’s gloom was a nice way to set off the decline of modern Britain, and Portsmouth a perfect petri dish of a setting for Hurley’s perceptive eye, sharp ear, and sensitivity to all his characters. But Winter, who started off as Gunvald Larsson to Faraday’s Martin Beck, is actually more attuned to Pompey than Faraday; Faraday is the observer, Winter is the participant, and as such a more natural fit for the series to revolve around. Where Faraday is a bird watcher, Winter, metaphorically, is as much a gull, fighting over Pompey’s scraps, as any criminal.

And now Winter, nearly killed while working in a sting operation aimed at Bazza Mackenzie, the Pompey crime boss, is actually working for him. Mackenzie’s pretensions to a legitimate business empire indicate a change in his character no more than Harold Shand’s did in The Long Good Friday (whose director was named Mackenzie, as it happens). Bazza now lives next door to a high court judge, and promises to keep an eye on the house while the judge is vacationing, so when the judge’s daughter and her boyfriend turn up dead at Bazza’s poolside, Winter becomes an investigator again, running parallel to the cops, and walking a thin line between them and his boss.

It’s a good story, whose red herrings always lead to important points—not necessarily about the crime, but about the criminals, about the cops, about Portsmouth. The motive for the killings might turn out to be personal, it might be involved with gangs, or drugs, or other crime, but the skill of Hurley’s story-telling is that it doesn’t matter which, because in one way everything is intertwined, and every scene plays against the others. Even Faraday’s growing fatigue, which causes him to withdraw somewhat in the story, is balanced by the research his French anthropologist girlfriend is doing among Pompey’s youth; it’s not the subtlest metaphor for modern Britain, and knowing Faraday you wonder how long it can endure, but it actually works when it becomes part of this story.

More important, there is a killer scene in Spain, which encapsulates Winter’s dilemma in the most horrible way, and suggests various directions that this series could move in the future. The Martin Beck series was deliberately conceived to run ten novels; I don’t know if Hurley has such an end in mind, but it is obvious that he’s moved his series into a wider scope, both for his main characters and for his portrayal of modern Britain. To my mind, this is the most undervalued of all the British police series, its arguably the most consistently interesting, and it’s certainly as entertaining as any.

Michael Carlson

No Lovelier Death

Graham Hurley

Orion £12.99 ISBN 9780752890060

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