Wednesday 29 January 2020

Sentimental detective and bloody-thirsty serial killer

Crime: The Murder Bag by Tony Parsons. Century, tpbk, 380 pages, €14.99

Eilis O'Hanlon

Eilis O'Hanlon on the first crime novel from former rock journalist and lad-lit novelist Tony Parsons.

The world doesn't need any more crime novels. There are enough maverick detectives with personal problems solving brutal, unnecessarily elaborate murders. It certainly doesn't need any crime novels from Tony Parsons, the former rock journalist who is best known now for sentimental lads' lit about growing up, marriage and fatherhood, including the bestseller Man and Boy.

Which makes it all the more of a pleasant surprise that The Murder Bag is as good as it is. It's not perfect. There's an awful lot of investigation by numbers, as DCI Max Wolfe - recent addition to the Homicide Division after a very exciting first chapter in counter terrorism - wanders around London, chasing red herrings and interviewing the obligatory list of suspects that no one really believes are going to be relevant.

There's also a bit too much padding and repetition. One character's "John Lennon glasses" are mentioned practically every time the man appears on the page. The author's trademark sentimentality isn't absent either, with our hero spending way too much time reminding the reader how much he loves his little daughter and their pet dog. Come to think of it, there are far too many dogs in this book altogether.

But the central story is strong and gripping, as a killer, nicknamed "Bob The Butcher" by the salivating tabloids, races around London cutting the throats of a series of apparently unconnected men. Of course, they don't stay unconnected for long.

The question is: what have they done in their past that is now catching up with them?

It's not the most original modus operandi for a serial murderer, but Parsons handles it with confidence and aplomb. Having decided to turn to crime fiction, he holds nothing back, and he's clearly done his research, which adds a satisfying layer of authenticity to the plot.

The acronyms are soon flying as freely as the blood spatters from the victims' carotid arteries. SOCO. SICAR. HOLMES. SSU. MRI-1. So are the clichés, though that's to be expected. Wolfe drives a BMW. Of course he does. The rich are getting away with doing bad things. Of course they are.

Throughout, Parsons captures well the black humour which characterises the conversation of policemen on the job, and Wolfe himself has a nice line in aphorism.

"I think it takes a while before the dead rest easy," he says to the mother of one victim who's been dreaming about her son.

If there's one overriding niggle with The Murder Bag, it's not with the novel itself, which is a passable addition to modern British crime fiction in the familiar mould of Mo Hayder and Ian Rankin. It's with the plaudits with which the book has been showered by such famous names as Lee Childs and Jeffery Deaver. That kind of mutual back slapping amongst bestseller writers can feel a little incestuous.

Max Wolfe's first outing as a detective is as good as it needed to be to make readers stay around for the second, The Slaughter Man, due in 2015; but he'll probably have to up his game if he wants them to come back after that.

Available with free P&P on www.kennys.ie or by calling 091 709350

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