Waites, Martyn - 'Speak No Evil'
SPEAK NO EVIL by Martyn Waites is the fourth in the series of thrillers featuring former Newcastle journalist and PI Joe Donovan. The main themes of this book, of rehabilitation of child murderers and knife crime amongst teenagers sadly remain very relevant, and discussed frequently in the media; the background details of one of the main characters, Anne-Marie Smeaton, are rooted in a historic real life murder case familiar to British readers, that of Mary Bell, a child who killed other children. At the opening of the novel, still struggling to cope with the disappearance of his son and breakdown of his marriage, Joe has agreed to take on a challenging new job, working with Anne-Marie Smeaton on her autobiography. Anne-Marie was notorious twenty years earlier as Mae Blacklock, a child who murdered another child, and is now living back in Newcastle, her old home-town under her new identity.
Anne-Marie appears to have coped well with adult life, living with a partner and teenage son, but underneath she is showing some strain; she has episodes where she has headaches and blackouts. After one of these episodes, she panics when it is reported that young teenager, Calvin, has been found stabbed to death on her estate. The reader already knows that Anne-Marie has nothing to do with this killing, which has taken place amongst a gathering of local youths at night for joyriding and drug dealing on the estate. As Anne-Marie starts to tentatively dig into her past and her memories of a traumatic early childhood, it becomes clear that events in prison and after her release are about to become a present-day threat.
In the meantime, various other strands of the plot feature Joe's PI team, who are down in Brighton tracking down Joe's lost son, Joe's estranged daughter, who is on her way up North after a row with her mother, and posh southern tabloid journalist Tess Preston who has come down to report on the murder, and fails to win friends and influence people amongst her own colleagues, let alone build a rapport with the estate residents. When Tess does her own investigating in a quest for a career-enhancing scoop she finds that attempting to manipulate the murder victim's teenage pals for information can be a dangerous game.
In SPEAK NO EVIL, Martyn Waites achieves more than the usual gritty urban noir, not only juggling various plot lines adeptly, but dealing with challenging themes such as the cycle of abuse and child murder and providing convincing characterisations of the vulnerable Anne-Marie, her son, and the other local teenagers. It is clear that the real-life experience of the author, working with young offenders and social excluded teenagers has informed his work. The switch between various points of view works well in speeding the story and plot along. The sections where Anne-Marie discusses her past with Joe are economically written, so the reader doesn't get bogged down in the sad tale of Anne-Marie's abusive upbringing before the crime. This is quality British noir with a heart that doesn't shirk sensitive characterisation and sensitive issues. My only quibble is that the subplot involving Joe's missing son and his posse of PIs detracts from the power of the main storyline.
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Laura Root, England