An assured confident debut from the newest member of the Red Dog Kennel. Violent, imaginative and gripping.
Set in my native Manchester, A Wash of Black follows DI Erika Piper on her first case back at work after being viscously attacked in the line of duty. Written almost entirely from Erika’s perspective, we follow a gruesome case and an expanding cast of interconnected characters building to a final confrontation. The case centers around a string of murders that appear to be imitating death scenes from a best-selling series of novels, and their film adaptation.
A Wash of Black is a rather violent story, the deaths are grisly and brutal. Described with an almost dispassionate disconnection from the violence by Erika, giving a sense that she has seen it all before and has become immune to it. Or that she has no choice but to be immune to it in her line of work, is that disconnect a defense mechanism employed to allow her to her job more effectively? That’s something for the reader to decide. I also enjoyed the commentary around social media and the impact that is having on the world. I can’t say a lot more around that without straying into risky spoiler territory. Social media can be a force for good, a great community, finding support and like-minded people are just a few examples, it has also created a lot of problems. The unrealistic expectations of life and body image, of what is need to be happy, of having to be seen to be at events and places, of feeling pressured to post every last element of your life online for all to see in order to be validated in some way.
As always with any book set in or around Manchester, I do get a kick out of seeing locations I recognise in play. The ice rink featured in the opening, though its had its name changed, I watched around a hundred and fifty ice hockey games there as a Manchester Phoenix fan and season ticket holder. There is a pub referenced in the northern quarter, relatively close to the Crown Plaza hotel which I’m pretty certain is based on The Lower Turks Head, a lovely pub by Shudehill. I mention all this, as the locations lend an air of reality to the story which helps bring it to life. Giving a story of this nature a sense of place helps to ground it for me, gives it a world in which the characters can start to develop. And its clear that Chris has no intention of this being the last of our encounters with Erika, we get to know her personally as well as professionally as the story moves along. There are beginnings of world building here, and I can see the jumping off point for a series of books.
Written at quite a clip, the story has some well plotted twists and turns presented in a way that feels modern rather than clichéd. All in all a gripping and interestingly told read.