Blood Tide by Avril Joy
Reviewed by Kathleen Jones
It’s Newcastle, in the north east of England, and Danny Beck, recently widowed, has left his job in the prison service and doesn’t know what to do with the rest of his life. A friend who runs a small private investigation agency has asked him to mind the shop while he goes to Australia to visit his family, and Danny - tired of living in an empty house with nothing to do - has agreed.
On his way to the office, Danny crosses one of the bridges over the Tyne and finds a young girl standing on the girders ready to jump off. Trained to talk prisoners out of difficult situations, Danny tries to talk her down, but in the end she jumps, throwing him a piece of paper on which she’s written a name and a number.
Danny, who’d expected to be minding the telephone and the desk, or searching for a lost dog or two, finds himself at the heart of an investigation into a major international crime ring centred around a night club called the After Dark, where all kinds of perverted sexual tastes are catered for behind sealed doors. It’s owned by Harry Munroe, a rich businessman who has powerful friends and the protection of violent thugs who don’t balk at murder.
One of the girls who works at the club, Gina, agrees to talk to Danny, but is too afraid to give much information away. Then she goes missing and Danny’s search for her brings him up against Aidan, a young ex-soldier traumatised by service in Afghanistan. He, too, is searching for Gina and has been following Danny’s every move. Unstable and easily provoked into violence, armed with a sniper rifle, Aidan is someone Danny needs to have on his side rather than against him. Aidan takes a lot of persuading.
There’s a rich cast of characters in this book, beginning with Danny himself - a complex, intelligent man, bruised by past events, unable to get over the death of his wife, still partly in love with the ex-girlfriend, Sarah, who is now married to his best friend. Sarah is an artist, struggling with domesticity and her marriage to Tom, who is an ambitious prison governor, willing to turn a blind eye when necessary and without Danny’s moral scruples. Then there’s Danny’s father, Joseph, one of a hardy breed of Northumberland moor dwellers, independent, cantankerous, but a man worth knowing. And Sunil, owner of the Indian restaurant beneath the office who becomes Danny’s self-appointed minder.
The landscape of ‘Geordie-land’ is so beautifully drawn - the lilting rhythms of the speech, the curry houses, the old streets around the Tyne. I could hear it, smell it, see it. Avril says that when she set out to write the novel she was ‘exploring the themes that I am drawn to as a writer, among which are: the lives of abused and disenfranchised women, prison and the dark side, loss and the healing power of friendship and love, our deep connection with the past and with the landscape in which we live.’
I was gripped by this thriller from beginning to end. I’d just finished a newly published Italian novel hyped as ‘the new Montalbano’, with all the resources of a big publishing house behind it, but found the book a struggle to read and totally lacking in the kind of interest and good writing you need if crime fiction is to be anything more than just a plot-puzzle. Blood Tide, by comparison, was in a different league, perhaps informed by the years that Avril worked in the prison education system which gives it a depth of real knowledge behind the characters and their motivations - on both sides of the legal divide. Avril is also a poet and this gives her prose another dimension.
Avril Joy’s thriller was almost picked up by two big publishing houses. The story is a familiar one to many Kindle authors. Avril writes:
When I first sent the novel to my agent I got an immediate and positive response – she liked it – she particularly liked the main characters and the dialogue. Things were looking good. It was picked up more or less straight away by an editor in a London publishing house who was keen to commission it. It went to the States to the co-publishers; was read there, and they declared in its favour. It looked like full steam ahead. I supplied the English publishers with photo, biography etc, etc. I foolishly, naively perhaps, thought we were home and dry.
Then suddenly everything went very quiet until finally after some months the editor said she was sorry but she was no longer in a position to commission crime fiction – not until 2012 at least. The story rolled on from there with other thwarted attempts (which I won’t go into) to sell by my agent until we finally agreed that the best way forward was Kindle!
All I can say is ‘Thank goodness for E-publishing’! I bet those publishers were regretting their decision to let Blood Tide slip when Avril stepped up to accept her Costa prize! Danny Beck has all the hall-marks of a classic detective and I can’t wait for the sequel.
Avril Joy blogs at Writing Junkie