Jimmy Mullen is a former Royal Navy man, but he has fallen on hard times. He served in The Falklands and has recurrent PTSD. He has served a jail term for manslaughter after intervening to stop a girl being slapped around and, until recently, lived out on the streets of Newcastle, among the city’s many homeless. Now, for the first time in years, he has a job – working for a charity – and a proper roof over his head. Author Trevor Wood (left) introduced us to Mullen in The Man On The Street (2019), and the follow-up novel One Way Street (2020) Thanks to his Navy training, Mullen has skills in investigation, and his closeness to the dark end of Newcastle street life has enabled him to put himself in places and among people where access is denied to conventional detectives.
Mullen frequents The Pit Stop, a refuge for the homeless and one of his closest mates is a man known as Gadge, who is cranky, abrasive, drinks for England, but highly intelligent. For the first time, we learn about Gadge’s back story. In the late 1980s, he was married, had a thriving tech start-up business – hence ‘Gadge’ for gadget – and had the world at his feet. His downfall makes for grim reading, but now he is in even more trouble. There has been an outbreak of assaults on homeless men, some receiving cruel beatings. Can these be linked to the campaign of a city pub owner, who is convinced that most of the homeless are working a clever scam, begging during the day, and then secretly returning to homes in the suburbs at night with a pockets full of untraceable cash?
Gadge becomes the victim of one of these assaults, but when he is woken up from his drunken stupor by the police, he is covered in blood – most of it not his – and in an adjacent alley lies the corpse of man battered to death with something like a baseball bat. And what is Gadge clutching in his hands when the police shake him into consciousness? No prizes for working that one out!
Keith Kane aka Gadge is arrested on suspicion of murder. All the forensic evidence suggests he is the killer, and he basically has only one chance of redemption, and that is if Mullen can get to the bottom of a complex criminal conspiracy involving a bent taxi firm, a former drug dealer and pimp mysteriously knocked down and killed by a bus and – just possibly – a family who may still be seeking revenge for a death, years ago, which brought about Gadge’s metamorphosis from wealthy tech wizard to alcoholic tramp.
As Mullen bobs and weaves between some of the nastier inhabitants of Newcastle’s gangland, the case becomes ever more complicated and, just as when a rock is turned over, all kinds of nasty things scuttle away from the unwelcome light. There are embittered folk determined to avenge family members, ghosts from the past, and increasing pressure on Mullen to make some pretty momentous moral choices.
Trevor Wood’s novel – apparently the final one in this series – is compassionate and compelling but, above all, a bloody good crime story. It is published by Quercus and is available in all formats now.