Over a decade ago, Graham Hurley was made an offer he couldn’t refuse – a three book deal with Orion. The catch? These books had to be crime novels. The problem? Hurley, a documentary maker by trade was no fan of the genre. But shadowing the detectives for a period with no preconceptions triggered an awareness of what could be achieved. Fast forward to 2012 and the publication of “Happy Days” sees Graham Hurley bring his critically acclaimed Portsmouth-set police series to a close.
Opening with “Turnstone”, originally tagged solely as a “DI Faraday” novel, it’s a mark of how Hurley’s multi-narrative viewpoint widened, that by the series’ conclusion, the roles of former DS Paul Winter and the police’s long term target, Bazza Mackenzie, are every bit as integral. Throughout the twelve books, DI Joe Faraday remains a lonely man, doomed to destroy the relationships he craves. Bringing up his deaf son, JJ, as a lone parent following his wife’s death, Faraday is a man who feels the world, even if he doesn’t necessarily understand it. The other side of the coin is DC Paul Winter. Winter is brash and loud, and although he recognised that he has to play by the rules, he also knows that those rules sometimes have to be bent a little. If this makes it sound like an identikit police series, and that’s not the intention as Faraday and Winter are fine creations who develop and change in the most believable of ways, then Hurley’s trump card is the introduction of major league criminal, Bazza Mackenzie.
From “Cut To Black” onwards, Mackenzie is the police’s long term major target and they only have one shot to bring him down before he’s beyond their reach, his money invested in regeneration projects around the city. But Mackenzie remains one step ahead of the police, leaving them empty handed and red faced. With the stakes increasing, “The Price of Darkness”, sees Winter go undercover to bring Mackenzie down, but a dangerous job becomes even more so as Winter, not unsurprisingly discovers he has a taste for the dark arts of the criminal world. At the start of the following novel, “No Lovelier Death”, Winter, disillusioned with the police force and seeing Mackenzie now part of the city’s elite, leaves to work as his right hand man. This reveals the true moral complexities inherent within the series. Although Mackenzie is a man of violence and crime, his true terrifying nature comes from the fact that he understands the power of being legitimate, a paradox Winter is painfully only too aware of.
The series stands an overview of the UK over the last decade – feral children running amok, the war in Iraq, the economic meltdown, immigration, even the changing nature of Premier League football – it all features.
The final essential character in the series is Portsmouth itself. A claustrophobic island city on the south coast of England with a proud sea-faring history, Hurley’s pulls no punches in a frank assessment of a city that now has multiple social problems, but remains a place where pockets of hope can be found. What you won’t find is a serial killer who kills in ever increasingly inventive fashion or comic book villains. Hurley’s trump card is allowing the city’s belligerence and unique identity to bleed into the characters, making them products of their environment. The location and characters come together to create an unrelenting sense of grim realism with no gimmicks. The series stands an overview of the UK over the last decade – feral children running amok, the war in Iraq, the economic meltdown, immigration, even the changing nature of Premier League football – it all features. Although the series features extreme violence and death, it’s entirely fitting with the world the characters inhabit. Portsmouth stands as both a unique and typical city.
With “Happy Days”, Hurley ties all the major characters and themes to a satisfying close. Mackenzie, with his business empire crumbling to dust in the recession, seeks real power by running for Parliament in the local elections. As this become all-encompassing and he continues to lose his business grip, Winter sees this as the opportunity he needs to leave his employment. Except you don’t leave the employment of people like Mackenzie by politely handing in your notice. The price to be paid is certain to be high. For Hurley and his characters, there’s only one certainty – there’s no going back. With his next book, “Western Approaches”, set to kick off a new police series in the West Country, Hurley is promising a tighter focus. There’ll be less emphasis on the work of the police and more a look at how these hard times affect us all. This time the lead detective will be a younger man with a family, trying to muddle his way through life. Not bad for a writer who was initially reluctant to commit to a series of crime novels.
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