Harry Devlin, a Liverpudlian lawyer, receives his own obituary in an anonymous envelope – apparently he is to die in six days time. Meanwhile, he is sucked into the events surrounding the deaths of young women, found on the beach with their tongues cut out and a serious attack on his partner. How many of the events are related? And can Harry sort everything out before his (literal) deadline?
This is another book from Martin Edwards. I’m reviewing it so soon after The Arsenic Labyrinth for two reasons. One, Martin will be appearing at my local bookshop, Formby Books, this coming Thursday 15th March – tickets still available, arrive from 5:30pm for a 6:30pm start, along with Kate Ellis – details are on the website – and secondly, I really enjoyed The Arsenic Labyrinth and The Cipher Garden but there are only two more books in that series, to date, so I thought I’d investigate Martin’s other primary series, the Harry Devlin stories. And this was the only one that I could find. So, how does it compare to the Lake District mysteries?
I am, of course, reading these in entirely the wrong order. The Harry Devlin series was Martin’s first series of books, written primarily in the 1990s. After three Lake District books, he returned to Devlin with Waterloo Sunset. I’m breaking one of my loose rules, by reading the last book first, but it looks like most of the rest of the Devlin stories are out of print. Luckily, the author is not one of those who happily spoils earlier novels. There is mention of the events in the first book – All The Lonely People – namely the murder of Harry’s wife, but that’s the premise of that book, not a central twist – unless the blurb writer of the edition that I found is fond of spoilers, of course.
In a lot of way, Waterloo Sunset reminded me of a lot of American thrillers. A reasonably hefty page-count and everything told from the protagonist’s viewpoint. It’s not told in the first person, but the reader is constantly perched on Harry’s shoulder, so we never take a detour, for example, to the mad nut-job who wants to spout violent drivel for a couple of pages to try and raise some tension. Sorry, I’ve read a few of those type of books a while ago, and I still get flashbacks.
Talking of mad nut-jobs, I should point out that if the tongue-cut-out bit puts you off, then don’t let it – basically, there is a brief mention of it having happened, but this is not a prurient book. Harry is a decent, if sometimes unlucky, normal lawyer, who has a tendency to stick his nose into a mystery, should one cross his path. As he isn’t the sort of person to dwell on the icky details of a crime, nor does the story. Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of dark moments here, but there are just as many moments to make you smile.
So far, this is in standard, if well-written, thriller territory. What raises this book above the standard thriller is the mystery. This doesn’t involve any character suddenly revealed undisclosed serial killer tendencies, everything develops organically, but, and I can’t emphasise this enough, in a very surprising way. It is very rare to find a solution, especially to a serial killer story, that both makes sense and still surprises the reader, but Waterloo Sunset delivers this. It’s a masterpiece of plotting, as all of the pieces slide into place. The slight downside of this is that it makes the sender of the messages a little bit of an anti-climax, as that’s much more guessable, but there’s still a bit of magic here, as an off-hand comment from much earlier in the book suddenly becomes life-savingly important. You could possibly argue about the cluing, but if you have faith in the fact that the solution makes perfect sense, then there is only one resolution to the story.
As a resident of Merseyside for the past seven years, it was fascinating to read about a partly-fictional, but still easily recognisable Liverpool, the book being written as vast areas were being redeveloped for the City of Culture. I’m determined to track down the earlier books now, if only to read about my local city in the nineties, before the changes happened. And it was nice to have the Iron Men of Another Place make an appearance in the book – if you need to know about their presence on Waterloo beach, click here – I’m not a fan of modern art, but they are truly magnificent.
Anyway, a quite different kettle of fish from the Lake District mysteries, but just as enthralling. Highly recommended.