PI Daniel Beckett gets plenty of action. Plenty of action on the streets, where his world-class tradecraft, rapid reflexes and hard-assed combat skills typically leave his opponents in immediate need of A&E or the morgue. Plenty of action between the sheets because fabulously gorgeous women tend to do that swooning thing when he turns up the charm. He almost equally addicted to sex and violence, and there’s plenty of both in this smart, savvy, streetwise thriller.
Author Dominic Piper writes crisp prose that fair rattles with alacrity. He wastes no time in getting down to Beckett’s first finger-snapping encounter with one of London’s bonehead brutes, rapidly followed by a series of flirtations with femmes fatale of the fashion industry. As the title implies, this tale is woven around the rivalries of the fashion industry, and Piper has an eye for detail in the cut of a suit or a rising hemline. A vulnerable, attractive (inevitably) female designer thinks she’s being stalked but has no proof. Hard man Beckett takes the case to watch her tail (he does a lot of that and a lot more besides). Things rapidly escalate through brawling, beatings, boffing, and various dead bodies to dispose of.
The result is an outright romp for the first half of the tale. Then there’s a frustrating change of pace when the Implausible Plot Coincidence comes to light and a metric tonne of back story has to be delivered in a lumbering chapter of exposition. After the sharp wit and snarky dialogue of the early chapters this section plods somewhat – but once the actors are established in their places for the final set piece the narrative then regains its mojo and gallops to a brilliantly constructed impossible-escape with all the loose ends neatly tied up in a blood-soaked bow.
Throughout all this, Beckett remains very much a mystery man. We learn very little about him apart from the way he thinks, the way he fights and the way he… you know. Not that there’s any graphic description of sensual engagement in here, oh no; it’s all implied and quite discreet. If you don’t think sex belongs in thrillers, then you’re unlikely to enjoy this one because Beckett’s carnal impulses are a cornerstone of his character. We learn little about his physical appearance, but there’s an awful lot of space dedicated to the voluptuous curves of his companions…
So, yes, he’s more than a little bit Bond, mixed with an awful lot of Bourne, but with the style of The Saint – delivering dialogue straight from Tarantino’s typewriter. Kudos where it’s due, too: Piper writes convincingly of a very real central London, one where the sidestreets around Covent Garden smell somewhat sour in the early mornings. I’ve walked the routes he describes and know the ebb and flow of commuters and tourists, and he’s absolutely nailed their authentic atmosphere.
DITNB doesn’t take itself too seriously but it does deliver a seriously entertaining mystery-thriller; an outstanding car chase through London’s west end, and an engaging central character who’d make an entertaining date.
Reviewed by Rowena Hoseason
Death Is The New Black by Dominic Piper is available as an ebook