Book Review – THE SMILING MAN (2018) by Joseph Knox

THE SMILING MAN (2018) ****
by Joseph Knox
This paperback edition published by Black Swan, 2019, 454pp
First published in hardcover by Doubleday, 2018
© Joesph Knox, 2018
ISBN: 978-1-7841-6219-1
      Blurb: A body has been found on the fourth floor of Manchester’s vast and empty Palace Hotel. The man is dead. And he is smiling. The tags have been removed from his clothes. His teeth have been replaced. Even his fingertips are not his own. Only a patch sewn into his trousers offers any information about him. Detective Aidan Waits and his unwilling partner, DI Sutcliffe, must piece together the scant clues to identify the stranger. But as they do, Aidan realises that a ghost from his past haunts the investigation. He soon recognises that to discover who the smiling man really is, he must first confront the scattered debris of his own life . . .
      Comment: Joesph Knox’s first book, Sirens, introduced us to Detective Aidan Waits. It was a dark, grim and macabre tale that proved to be one of the best debut novels in recent years. His follow-up, The Smiling Man, continues in the same vein. Waits is paired on the night shift with DI Peter Sutcliffe (Knox’s penchant for referencing serial killers both real and fictional is one of his traits). On attending the crime scene at a disused hotel they find a man’s body in one of the rooms. It cannot be identified and is distinguished only by the disturbing smile on his face. The investigation runs concurrently with events from Waits’ past, which re-surface on the release from prison of the psychotic Bateman. The plots are not directly linked but weave between each other throughout the novel, with Waits trying to rid himself of the events that led to his dark personality. It’s a psychological rollercoaster and Knox handles the elements well through his first-person narrative. The creepy elements in the Smiling Man mystery are reminiscent of cases such as The Black Dahlia. Knox admirably captures the darkness of the locale, despite being set during a rare Manchester heatwave, and showcases a cast of violent, eccentric and flawed characters. As such this book is not for those who don’t like their mysteries to veer too much toward the disturbingly dark side, but fans of Knox’s first novel will not be disappointed with this stylish follow-up.

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