It seems a million years ago that Peter Guttridge was one of the sharpest and wittiest writers of comic crime that this country has produced. He’s still an excellent writer, but his territory has shifted — not that his new sequence of Brighton-set crime novels (of which The Last King of Brighton is the second) dispenses with humour, but the tone is decidedly darker, as the world presented to the reader a much more dangerous one than any of the author’s lighter novels featuring beleaguered detective Nick Madrid. As in the acclaimed first volume in the new sequence, City of Dreadful Night, we are in a benighted Brighton which is every bit as menacing as that conjured by Graham Greene for the murderous Pinkie to ply his trade in. Criminal kingpin Dennis Hathaway maintains a successful criminal empire by a combination of ruthlessness and greasing of police palms. His teenaged son, John, has no idea how his father makes his money, and pursues the customary teenage enterprises for the 1960s: playing in a group and seeking sexually available girls. But as he reaches 17, John is made aware of the corruption on which his legacy is built. In the present day, John is now in charge of his father’s empire, and has learned just how the world works. But then a man is found brutally murdered on the South Downs, having been tortured to death — and this act of monstrous violence is to have a seismic effect on John’s life. Guttridge combines pithy and evocative scene setting with dialogue that has the ring of authenticity, and has successfully banished the recurrent problem of the second novel in a sequence (whereby a lowering of temperature is almost inevitable) — this book is every bit as visceral as its predecessor, and will have readers impatient for the third and concluding volume.
The Last King of Brighton is published by Severn House