The Sidewinder: when music leads to murder

SidewinderTwenty years ago, Sidewinder were a half decent rock band. Then one musician died suddenly and the show was over. Nowadays, the young men have matured, moved on. They’ve got themselves families and careers – local politics, the police force, journalism and the like. Sidewinder was something to look back on… until another of the band members turns up dead in strange circumstances. Did he really kill himself – or was this apparent suicide something more sinister?

Author Simon Maltman is carving out his very own niche in ‘Northern Ireland noir’, and this is his best book to date. He creates a convincing sense of place and time, using flashbacks to reveal what happened then and how it critically affects the now. It’s a sneakily smart plot with a couple of wowzer ‘didn’t see that coming’ moments, set in an entirely believable Belfast. Maltman crafts a near-perfect depiction of life in a gigging rock band; always inches away from the deal that might break them into the big time. Always another grinding gig to play, another long haul in the back of a rattling van, another sneaky spliff to smoke. It all has the slightly sticky, slightly sleazy, acrid tang of authenticity about it.

The bad guy is another brilliantly believable concoction. Superficially, he’s the typical bloke next door; a family man, working 9 to 5. Maltman peels back that persona to reveal the scars on a psyche that can twist a personality, the wounds which warp a faithful husband into a philandering fraud. Disillusion breeds resentment which develops into repressed rage – an ideal incubator for a murderer. The author subtly suggests that even an opportunistic first kill doesn’t come out of the blue: it’s the culmination of a descent into darkness which might take decades. Murder doesn’t happen on the spur of the moment…

The narrative switches between two perspectives of pivotal characters and, as ever, I hugely enjoyed this device. I’m always fascinated by contrasting viewpoints, and seeing the same scenes played out from different angles. Interpretation is everything and we create our own version of events… which may not match what anyone else thinks! Mind you, I did struggle somewhat to differentiate between these two characters; they spoke with very similar ‘voices’ and their domestic situations (deliberately, I believe) mirrored each other. There’s a whole ‘bad person pretending to be good’ and ‘good person struggling not to be bad’ thing going on – this could’ve had more impact if the two people were more sharply separated.

Also – and this is trivial but it kept catching my attention – do people in Belfast really say ‘frig’ these days? I’ve not heard anyone use that word since my mother did, c1980…

As you may have gathered, there’s an awful lot going on in this novel. In the main, Maltman succeeds in delivering a tense yet thoughtful page-turner, a couple of eye-opening surprises and a full-on finale.

8/10
Reviewed by Rowena Hoseason
The Sidewinder by Simon Maltman is available at amazon

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