Book Review – THE SLEEPWALKER (2019) by Joseph Knox

THE SLEEPWALKER (2019) ****
by Joseph Knox
This paperback edition published by Black Swan, 2020, 433pp
First published in hardcover by Doubleday, 2019
© Joesph Knox, 2019
ISBN: 978-1-7841-6218-4
      Blurb: As a series of rolling blackouts plunge the city into darkness, Detective Aidan Waits sits on an abandoned hospital ward, watching a mass murderer slowly die. Transferred from his usual night shift duties and onto protective custody, he has just one job. To extract the location of Martin Wick’s final victim before the notorious mass murderer passes away. Wick has spent over a decade in prison, in near-total silence, having confessed to an unspeakable crime that shocked the nation and earned him the nickname of The Sleepwalker. But when a daring premeditated attack leaves one police officer dead and another one fighting for his life, Wick’s whispered last words will send Waits on a journey into the heart of darkness. Manipulated by a reticent psychopath from his past, and under investigation from his new partner, Detective Constable Naomi Black, Waits realises too late that a remorseless contract killer is at work. Can Aidan Waits solve his last case before fleeing justice?
      Comment: The third book in Joesph Knox’s Aidan Waits series sees the author put his protagonist through even darker territory than in Sirens or The Smiling Man. The result is a fast-paced page-turning thriller full of twists. The main plot concerns the murder of a convicted killer, convicted for the deaths of a woman and her two children but claiming his innocence as he dies as a result of a hate attack. As Waits and his new partner, Naomi Black, delve deeper they uncover a broader web of cover-ups within the force relating to another case involving a missing female detective. Alongside this, Knox delves more into Waits’ personal past and his relationship with his sister and mother. To fully understand this latter sub-plot it is advised to read Knox’s books in order. If that wasn’t enough there is a further sub-plot involving Knox’s personal nemesis and drug crime lord, Zain Carver, who has put a contract out on the detective. Knox juggles the main plot and the various sub-plots extremely well, so the book does not feel overly cluttered until he tries to resolve (or not as the case may be) each of them in a finale which builds crescendo on crescendo.  Therein lies the problem. The book tries to cram so much exposition into its final act and whilst doing so has an ambiguous ending that will leave some readers distinctly unsatisfied. It may make for thrilling reading and certainly is exciting, but does make the reader question its contrived nature. This is where the modern novel is now mimicking the TV mini-series, which in itself mimicked the novel. The need to pile on shock revelation after shock revelation has removed an element of logic and plausibility from the narrative. That said this was still a hugely enjoyable read for those willing to forgive the contrivances and submit to Knox’s dark view of the world. It will be interesting to see what this challenging and gifted writer delivers next as I have the feeling there is a masterpiece within his gifts, just waiting to be unleashed.

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.

Book Review – SIRENS (2017) by Joseph Knox

SIRENS by JOSEPH KNOX (2017, Doubleday, 374pp) ∗∗∗∗∗

Blurb: Isabelle Rossiter has run away again. When Aidan Waits, a troubled junior detective, is summoned to her father’s penthouse home – he finds a manipulative man, with powerful friends. But retracing Isabelle’s steps through a dark, nocturnal world, Waits finds something else. An intelligent seventeen-year-old girl who’s scared to death of something. As he investigates her story, and the unsolved disappearance of a young woman just like her, he realizes Isabelle was right to run away. Soon Waits is cut loose by his superiors, stalked by an unseen killer and dangerously attracted to the wrong woman. He’s out of his depth and out of time. How can he save the girl, when he can’t even save himself?

This is a remarkably assured debut from Joseph Knox that explores the seedy criminal underworld of Manchester.  The book is a dark, modern take, on the noir-mystery genre. There are echoes of Chandler, MacDonald, et al, in Knox’s first-person narration, but more so this has an instinctive feel for time and place. It is also a depressing tale populated by characters with few, if any, redeeming qualities. Even Knox’s hero, Aidan Waits, has more than his fair share of troubles, including his own drug dependency. Despite this, Knox’s writing style keeps the reader gripped from start to finish as the mystery unravels. His use of short, one-scene chapters, and his sectioning of the book into effectively six acts, all carrying a single word title, gives the novel the structure of a TV mini-series, which this could well become. The book took Knox eight years to complete and his sense of perfection has resulted in one of the best debut crime novels in recent years. Where he will take his lead character in the promised series will be interesting, as there is a sense that Knox has put everything into this. Like his hero, I am hooked.