Monday, February 13, 2012

Graham Hurley "Beyond Reach"

Many years ago on one of the few occasions my family had access to a TV set (limited to school holidays if results merited it) I recall seeing an episode of Z Cars where the police cars were chasing someone who'd vandalised a bus shelter (or some similar structure) and after an hour or so of low key action had failed to catch the culprits,

It was, to put it mildly, a bit of an eye-opener back in an era when the forced of law and order invariably got their man when they set out in pursuit of serious crime.

Since then there have been plenty of examples of the good guys failing to catch the baddies in print, on film and over the TV ether, and the ongoing battle of wits between the Portsmouth police and their arch-rival Bazza Mackenzie has driven Graham Hurley's Joe Faraday series along very nicely indeed.

Mackenzie, for those unfamiliar with the series is the former soccer hooligan turned drug dealer who has managed to elevate himself above the pack and diversified his interests to the point where he's got a finger in most of the pies going around, and the Pompey Plod know it.

The diversity of Mackenzie's interests means most criminal activity in Portsmouth is bound to impinge on them, even if Bazza's not personally involved from the start, and as he becomes involved the possibility that this might just be the chance to get him comes into the calculations as far as the Constabulary are concerned.

Almost invariably, something goes amiss and the opportunity goes down the gurgler, which is what happens here in Beyond Reach, which is where Bazza seems to be permanently located at a distance that's tantalisingly adjacent.

There are at least three chances to nail him here this time around, though the story starts off in a predictably non-Mackenzie manner when a mangled body found on a main road turns out to be a thug who has been terrorising the Portsdown estate. It's obviously a hit and run, but Kyle Munday has been at the centre of a couple of investigation into the stabbing murder of teenage would-be musician Tim Morrissey on Guy Fawkes night. While Faraday and his colleagues aren't exactly heartbroken at this development there are definite questions that need to be asked.

To muddy the waters and provide a degree of distraction, Faraday's latest lady friend has headed to Montreal and an academic position that threatens to become permanent, while his superiors are starting to question his ability to continue in his current role. They have have effectively sidelined him by handing over a twenty-five year old rape case that just might be able to be reopened thanks to developments in the realms of DNA testing techniques.

None of this has an obvious link to Mackenzie, and he's got problems of his own since his married daughter is cheating on her husband, which mightn't have been a problem if it wasn't distracting her from issues involved with Dad's business interests, which is what brings Dad to ask ex-cop turned minder Paul Winter to look into these things.

When Winter does, it turns out that she's gone and got herself rather deeply involved with a certain high-ranking detective, which suggests there's undercover intrigue afoot. We soon learn while DCI Perry Madison had once been second in command on the Major Crime Team he's almost universally loathed by his colleagues. While his involvement with the girl might be part of a wider plan to bring Bazza unstuck you get the distinct impression that his colleagues would be loath to see the man get any credit for anything.

Hurley does internal police force intrigue and machinations consistently well.

His involvement with Esme, however, has also created a second avenue the authorities could use to bring Baz unstuck, though Esme's smart enough to avoid spilling the actual beans. Winter's despatched to tidy things up when a partner in one of Mackenzie's schemes (a block of apartments and a hotel in Spain) turns out to be a London drug dealer with the Metropolitan Police breathing down his neck rather than the casino operator he presented as.

Then, with marital discord causing Esme and her merchant banker husband to leave their three kids in an isolated country house with the au pair some thug breaks into the house and kidnaps the eldest son in an almost clinical operation. The matter is reported \and offers another avenue to infiltrate the Mackenzie organisation since they're going to need officers on the spot when the phone calls about the ransom start coming in.

Apart from tidying up the various strands involving Esme and the Spanish development, Winter also has a problem in the shape of the Tide Turn Trust, Bazza's new pet project which will cement his new respectability through an intervention in the lives of Portsmouth's underprivileged youth.

Although he's been allocated the responsibility for looking after Tide Turn it's not Winter's kettle of fish, and he manages to persuade Bazza they need assistance from a professional social worker, and he comes up with the perfect solution in Mo Sturrock, currently on gardening leave after speaking his mind at a conference rather than reading from the prepared script he was supposed to deliver.

Sturrock's plan to intervene and turn around the lives of the hard core youth gangs that are running an extortion racket to fund Kyle Munday's funeral is the sort of thing that needs a major occasion to launch, and invitations are duly sent to Faraday's superiors, who are still smarting from being outwitted by Mackenzie's decision to pay the ransom for the grandson's kidnapping himself without police involvement and send Winter, supposedly with a million pounds in cash that has ostentatiously been withdrawn from the bank, to lead the police on a wild goose chase.

Then, when Sturrock's scheme looks like providing an opportunity to leave Baz with egg on his face, that one blows up in their faces as well.

Having run through this series as I ran across the titles rather than hitting them in the appropriate order I can vouch for the fact that the individual titles work well enough as stand alones, but I'd still suggest Turnstone as the best starting point. As a series, the books are good enough to have the missing titles on the watch list (you'll find the odd Hurley title in the el cheapo bins at various newsagents) and I'll eventually be doing a reread in the right order exercise.

That's going to happen because Hurley works his plot lines skilfully, with half a dozen seemingly unrelated strands getting themselves tied together in the end. Fair enough, you might say, that tying together apparently unrelated subplots is a key part of the whole crime fiction genre. The difference here lies in the developing interaction between good cop who's rapidly becoming disillusioned (Faraday), bad cop who's gone over to the dark side but still has time for his old boss (Winter) and Mackenzie, who should, by rights be bringing himself unstuck but miraculously stays one step ahead of the pack.

That interaction makes the Faraday series, for my money, one of the best going around and Beyond Reach is quite possibly the best of the series to date.

No comments:

Post a Comment