The Smiling Man by Joseph Knox

Review published on March 14, 2018.

Joseph Knox has created a defective detective series based around a bent, possibly corrupt copper who is trying to go straight, Aidan Waits. A detective whose city beat is around the City Centre of Manchester, and the featured places do exist, even if a bit of artistic licence is used. An example being St Mary’s hospital, you will find it is the maternity hospital, the MRI is around the corner, which has the A&E department. But that is me being a pedant, sorry.

Aidan Waits has been dumped on permanent night duty, serving alongside Detective Inspector Peter ‘Sutty’ Sutcliffe, both neither liked nor trusted by senior officers. The night shift being nothing but endless emergency calls and dead ends, anything of interest passed on to the day shift.

One night in the middle of a very hot summer in the city they are called out to an incident at the disused and up for sale Palace Hotel. When they get there, they find the security guard is knocked out. Waits hears voices and someone escaping down the fire escape. He goes up a floor to room 413, where he finds a dead man who is smiling.

All identifying tags on the man’s clothing have been removed and there are no other means of identification. As Waits slowly pieces together the identity of the mystery man, the investigation gains more dead bodies, which seem to send them in another direction. Even when they think they have determined his identity, not everything is as it should be. Waits has warring owners to deal with, worried that the murder will hold up the sale, as well as a solicitor in Thailand who cannot be contacted. And officers and a forensic team that does not trust Waits as far as they can throw him.

Things are not made any easier by a Superintendent who would love to get rid of him and another investigation that brings him in to contact with a Z-list celebrity, who needs to be dealt with. But his biggest problem is the blast from the past that has come back into his life to haunt him. Like his murder investigation, he has realised that he needs to deal with the past in order to face down the future.

Is Waits a bent copper or does he just blur the lines? Will he be able to deal with his past? We finally get the backstory to what has formed Waits as the person he is. Whether he is likeable is debateable, but he does make for a gripping character.

An excellent thriller, and I hope there is much more to come from this series.

Paul Diggett 5/5

The Smiling Man by Joseph Knox
Doubleday 9780857524409 hbk Mar 2018

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