Manchester, more than any other English city, is a landscape of contrasts. These days, the architectural relics of the industry which made the city rich and powerful are either ruins, museums or tastefully converted executive apartments. The brash new buildings which replaced the huddled Victorian slums are themselves now urban hell-holes. Despite the relentless bustle of a big commercial city, the lie of the land means that you can still turn a corner or drive up a hill and glimpse the brooding moorland to the east.
It is in Manchester that author Neil White introduces us to an unlikely crime fiction duo. Not Inspector and Sergeant, not toff and manservant. not analytical genius and bumbling foil, but brothers. With a difference. Sam Parker is a policeman, while his brother Joe has opted to on the other side of the tracks. Not a criminal himself, you understand, but a solicitor who earns his daily bread by being summoned to police stations across the city to try to advise felons on what they should and shouldn’t say in the interview room. The authenticity of Joe Parker as a character is boosted by the fact that Neil White, as well as writing CriFi bestsellers, is actually a criminal lawyer.
Joe and Sam share a terrible family history. Their teenage sister Ellie was murdered by a serial killer. Neither man escapes the torture of her memory brings, but Joe’s grief is special. He actually saw Ellie’s killer before her death but chose to ignore the threat, and has been too ashamed to admit his negligence. Now, a fresh killing re-opens old wounds and old cases, and the Parker brothers are sucked into the resulting vortex.
The plot of The Domino Killer is full of scarcely plausible coincidences, but Neil White (pictured right) is a good enough writer to plough through these potential blockages and delivers a novel full of drama, suspense and prose which hooks the reader in, and doesn’t let go.
We learn the identity of the bad guy quite early on. As readers, our main challenge is to find out how the killer can be brought to justice with the minimum damage to the careers of Joe and Sam Parker.
Both the geographical setting and the sympathetic portrait of the conflicted brothers are totally plausible. Those of us who are a certain age will know full well the significance of the nearby Saddleworth Moor, and the awful secrets it still holds. The killer in this case does not quite sink to the depravity of Brady and Hindley, but he is bad enough. For him, the initial killing is but a means to an end. The book’s recurrent metaphor is that the murdered girls are simply large stones thrown into a pond, and it is the consequent ripples which provide the real stimulus for the killer’s twisted mind.
The gloomy warehouses of Ancoats, bisected by dark abandoned canals, are the backdrop for the exciting climax of this novel, which is the third in the series featuring Sam and Joe Parker. It is published by Sphere, and is available now.
Neil White’s website is here, and you can also follow him on Twitter by clicking the icon.