Review published on September 15, 2018.
Welcome to the Nudge stop on the blog tour for Robert Scragg’s What Falls Between the Cracks!
What Falls Between the Cracks is the first novel in a new crime series featuring Detective Inspector Porter and his side-kick Sergeant Styles. It’s a nicely balanced, well-plotted police procedural with a couple of decent plot twists. As for the murder mystery, the who and the why are well disguised. The cops are really interesting (there’s plenty of room for them to develop over time) and the villains are seriously nasty (creating a sense of menace). A healthy dose of action and violence keep things edgy. A realistic feel to the background setting is essential to a good crime novel these days and Scragg nails it here. Right from the start, is seemed to me that this new series would be ideal for fans of Peter James.
What Falls Between the Cracks opens with a double whammy – a suicide and a gruesome discovery. Nathan Barclay is a broken man, he blames himself for his misfortune and that of his daughter, Natasha, but have a heart, it’s not as simple as that. “I tried, Natasha, God knows I tried,” he utters in despair. His transport business is going under, his world has just fallen apart and there’s nothing left to live for. He puts the gun he is cradling in his lap to his mouth and pulls the trigger. It’s a strong start but there’s more. A maintenance man is called to a block of flats in Walthamstow, the fridge is leaking, the place is a mess, no one seems to have been here for years. It looks like an easy job to sort but when he opens the fridge door and sees what’s inside he can’t get out of the flat quick enough – A severed human hand.
Detective Inspector Jake Porter is still troubled by the death of his wife even though it’s two years since it happened, he dreams of her at least a couple of times a week. When he gets the call about a discovery in Walthamstow, his wing-man, Nick Styles, is already on scene. The hand is female and the flat has belonged to Natasha Barclay since 1981. It was paid for outright using four large donations into her account. There are letters gathering dust dating from 1983. Oddly, of the other eleven residents of the block, nobody knew Natasha, nobody ever saw or heard her. Natasha’s account still has £9,000 in it after all these years and at the time no one came forward to report her missing, it’s all starting to get a little weird. But her father Nathan Barclay committed suicide in 1983, his business was bankrupt and his suicide note apologised for failing his daughter. Natasha’s mum was long dead but her step-mum, Mary, and her half brother, Gavin, are still around. Mary is now Mrs Locke, her husband Alexander is the owner of Barclay’s old company, Atlas, bought for a quid when he committed suicide. Locke has cropped up on the radar with the drug squad, although his record and reputation are squeaky clean. He’s a person of interest in the death of an addict. They’re pretty sure the Locke transport business is being used to shift huge amounts of drugs around (anything up to £100M a year). James Bolton is Locke’s number two and his fingerprints are in Natasha’s apartment. Still, the boss wants Porter to tread carefully.
Locke appears to be an honest businessman, he’s got friends in high places and he’s a major contributor to charities. Porter won’t lower his sights from Locke but he’s warned off, told to stick with Bolton. So they start tailing Bolton but the operation goes badly wrong, an informant and a police officer are killed, and another officer, one who matters to Porter, is left fighting for her life. The focus of the investigation shifts but Porter knows the disappearance of Natasha Barclay is linked into what happening now. With no evidence concerning Natasha’s disappearance/murder and a wall of silence around Locke and Bolton, Porter will have to figure out who he can trust, how they get justice for their colleagues and solve a thirty-year-old cold case at the same time.
I like the way the mystery of what happened to Natasha and how the hand came to be severed overhangs the whole story, even when things start to get complicated and the focus of the investigation shifts. Porter is determined not to let what happened to Natasha get forgotten, no matter how much his boss wants him to focus on what happened to his colleagues. Porter knows it’s all connected somehow.
Scragg has set the scene for Jake Porter’s past to be an important feature of future novels and the dynamic between Porter and his team is opening up some interesting avenues for new stories. Mostly set in the present, a few key glimpses of the past very cleverly give us the story behind the hand and the disappearance all those years ago. Scragg presents a plausible picture of the way an investigation is run and how the office politics of a police station work.
Robert Scragg is one of the instigators of the North East Noir Crime Writer’s Group and this debut promises to be the beginning of a solid police procedural series that fans of the sub-genre will easily take to. The second novel in the series, Nothing Else Remains, will follow in March 2019.
Paul Burke 4/4
What Falls Between the Cracks by Robert Scragg
Allison and Busby 9780749022945 pbk Sep 2018
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