It ain’t easy for an author writing British crime fiction to find that pivot-point between a realistic, believable situation and a genuinely gripping storyline. While the UK crime-rate is far from ideal, blazing gun battles, weird serial killings and helicopter chases aren’t exactly part of everyday life. So BritCrime thrillers tend to veer from one extreme to t’other, from plodding, parochial procedurals to absurdly implausible overkill.
Top marks to John Lincoln, then, for constructing a completely credible situation for his investigator, Gethin Grey. Grey runs a legal bureau which specialises in miscarriages of justice; the perfect springboard to launch intriguing investigations while neatly side-stepping the humdrum conventions of police-centred procedurals.
Grey needs a high-profile case to fill the firm’s coffers and give them some decent PR. When a superannuated actress offers to fund an appeal for a young black man convicted of murder, Grey’s hopes seem to have been realised. But soon he’s struggling with evasive witnesses, corrupt coppers, gangland connections and secrets that someone’s prepared to kill for…
Fade To Grey successfully drags the private eye investigation into the modern era with its clever combination of classic crime conventions and 21st century sensibilities. The backstreets of Bristol and the scruffy side of Cardiff feel convincingly rough around the edges. Grey’s youthful investigators are spiky, streetwise, ethnically representative, tech-savvy and not averse to breaking a few rules. And as Grey is a modern-day gumshoe then custom demands that he’s plagued by some grim personal demons – but once again Lincoln makes this real-world and relevant. Grey’s addiction is one of those nasty secrets which polite society doesn’t like to talk about, and here we see how it threatens both his personal and professional lives.
Lincoln also delivers a couple of romping action sequences, in which improbable ‘car chases’ are replaced with full-on cycle pursuits, and fight scenes where people get hit; it really hurts, and they tend to stay down. Bravo for keeping it real, that man.
And then, just to be contrarywise, I’m knocking off a point for one area in which Fade To Grey is just too realistic – the dialogue. To be explicit, the explicit dialogue. Sure, I know that’s how lowlife scumbags speak. But author’s repetition of the C-word made me wonder just what he was trying to prove, and I’m sure it’s going to alienate a sizeable sector of his target audience.
I also deducted a smidgen of a mark for that regular muck-up in British crime novels; the misapprehension that in the UK the victim of a crime can choose to ‘press charges’. Prosecutions are handled by the DPP in this country; it’s only certain states in the US which depend upon the witness deciding to press charges for assault or whatever. In fictional crime, you could forgive a member of the public making this mistakes (because, erm, authors and editors certainly make it all the time), but it’s unfeasible that the staff of a legal bureau would be likewise ill-informed.
On the whole, however, Fade To Grey is that unusual animal: an entirely English crime novel which accurately represents its time and place, spins a satisfying mystery, and delivers a rollicking read.
Reviewed by Rowena Hoseason
Fade To Grey by John Lincoln is available at Amazon