Review: The Mermaid’s Pool by David Nolan from Fahrenheit Press

The return of Manc Noir. Fast paced, exciting, engaging, compassionate story telling of the highest order.

Available to buy direct from Fahrenheit Press

To note: I have reviewed The Mermaid’s Pool from an uncorrected proof kindly supplied by Fahrenheit Press. My paid for copy of the finished novel has been ordered.

I was a big fan of Black Moss, the first of David Nolan’s Manc Noir trilogy, when I read and reviewed it in early 2019, so it was with some excitement that I approached the ‘difficult second album’. Mermaid’s Pool is an exceptional thriller, I was not disappointed. The writing on display is of a standard that belies David’s many years of experience, this is his second novel, but he has been writing non-fiction books for almost twenty years and the confidence that experience brings shines through. Starting with a bang, the story is designed to grab and hold your attention, the action barely pauses for breath across all 225 pages.

Focussing on DI Smithdown and his family, Mermaid’s Pool takes place before the events of Black Moss in the turbulent summer of 1988. Although the events are fictional, they are based on real life and draw from the kinds of things that make author David Nolan angry, really angry, for more on that take a look at the Q&A with David from yesterday, which can be found here. What starts as a missing persons / murder enquiry around the grisly discovery of a amputated hand in Oldham’s Alexandra Park soon spins into something far more sinister. Racial tensions in Oldham which come to a head in riots, based on real events that occurred in spring of 2001, are used as a foundation for a story touching on a range of social issues which are sadly still prevalent today. A number of seemingly unrelated cases start to come together as the dedicated and conscientious DI Smithdown refuses to let a nagging feeling of interconnectedness go.

Some scenes in the book are grisly, more so than I was expecting. In describing the lengths some characters are willing to go to in order to achieve their aims, David pulls no punches. Rather than leaving it to the imagination, you are faced with the grim realities of extremist racist violence head on. These scenes are used sparingly, making their impact when they come all the more potent.

The Mermaid’s Pool is a real place, on Kinder Scout…

As this might suggest, place plays a significant role in the book. Almost to the extent that places become characters in the novel. This story only works in the way it does because of where it is occurring. You can move the basic elements elsewhere, Oldham by no means has a monopoly on race riots, but in doing so you would change the story. This is not a story that happens to be set in Greater Manchester, it is a Greater Manchester story.

I won’t lie though I do get a kick out of reading a book set in my neck of the woods. In one scene Smithdown drives past the top of my street. Depending on his route, he may even drive up my street to get to the main road at the top. That’s the kind of location specific elements that are very personal to me as a reader, but I also use it to illustrate why I feel a connection to these books. This is a world I recognise intimately. The real-life riots of 2001 occurred whilst I was at Oldham Sixth Form college, I remember going back in the Monday after and what that was like as a teenager studying for A-Levels.

Moving at breakneck pace throughout The Mermaid’s Pool is an exciting and engaging thriller, set thirty years ago but still incredibly relevant for modern times. Thought provoking Noir at its very best.

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