British crime fiction can be, in the ancient phrase, much of a muchness. Especially the television versions. “Cosy crime” is a term we have here, and on television that can extend to, say, John Simm as the faintly concerned civil servant that is Roy Grace, or Stephen Tompkinson wearing the head of a giant traumatised baby in DCI BANKS. Even Ann Cleeves’ enduring creation, the disappointed gargoyle Vera Stanhope, is sweetened by the excellent Brenda Blethyn’s invincible twinkle in the VERA tv show. A thing common to the majority of them is that they have That Single Terrible Event In Their Past that defines them. This Single Terrible Event tends to deform the plot towards their awful compasspoint. So, when I began THE HOPE THAT KILLS by Ed James, with its Single Terrible Event up front for Detective Inspector Simon Fenchurch and its milling-around of barely-engaged quotidian plods, I figured I was in for a slog.
The second thing I noticed was an attention to detail. Both detail in police procedure, which is a good way to convince the reader that something of import is happening, and detail in setting. It’s all set in East London- which is where half my family comes from — and it felt authentic. Set in 2015, I could absolutely relate to the atmosphere. I was on those streets, right there and then, and it rang true. Nice job, I thought, but I’m definitely settling in for some grey crime fiction with lots of frowning people.
About a quarter of the way in, it starts to get odd. Halfway through, you realise that there may be something wrong with Ed James, because this is batshit. The real plot, when it emerges, is kind of grand guignol in its conceptual grotesquerie and hysteria. I was not expecting that. Nor was I expecting the arc of character development in Fenchurch, which – not to spoil it, but — does the thing these books never do. It brings some warm peace to the Single Terrible Thing and takes away its defining power over his personality. I was impressed by that.
If you’re in the mood for a bit of London crime fiction that takes a swerve into horror movie plotting, THE HOPE THAT KILLS is a surprising pleasure.
THE HOPE THAT KILLS, Ed James (link)