SIRENS by JOSEPH KNOX (2017, Doubleday, 374pp) ∗∗∗∗∗
Blurb: Isabelle Rossiter has run away again. When Aidan Waits, a troubled junior detective, is summoned to her father’s penthouse home – he finds a manipulative man, with powerful friends. But retracing Isabelle’s steps through a dark, nocturnal world, Waits finds something else. An intelligent seventeen-year-old girl who’s scared to death of something. As he investigates her story, and the unsolved disappearance of a young woman just like her, he realizes Isabelle was right to run away. Soon Waits is cut loose by his superiors, stalked by an unseen killer and dangerously attracted to the wrong woman. He’s out of his depth and out of time. How can he save the girl, when he can’t even save himself?
This is a remarkably assured debut from Joseph Knox that explores the seedy criminal underworld of Manchester. The book is a dark, modern take, on the noir-mystery genre. There are echoes of Chandler, MacDonald, et al, in Knox’s first-person narration, but more so this has an instinctive feel for time and place. It is also a depressing tale populated by characters with few, if any, redeeming qualities. Even Knox’s hero, Aidan Waits, has more than his fair share of troubles, including his own drug dependency. Despite this, Knox’s writing style keeps the reader gripped from start to finish as the mystery unravels. His use of short, one-scene chapters, and his sectioning of the book into effectively six acts, all carrying a single word title, gives the novel the structure of a TV mini-series, which this could well become. The book took Knox eight years to complete and his sense of perfection has resulted in one of the best debut crime novels in recent years. Where he will take his lead character in the promised series will be interesting, as there is a sense that Knox has put everything into this. Like his hero, I am hooked.