Book review: Ash and Bones byÂ Mike Thomas
For more than two decades, Thomas was a police officer in the bustling city of Cardiff but he left the force last year to write full time and this new voice in crime fiction is already hitting the big time.
His second novel, Ugly Bus, is currently in development for a six-part television series with the BBC and Ash and Bones, the first of what promises to be an exciting new series starring a rookie CID officer operating in the shadowy underbelly of Cardiff, is a stunning opener.
In a remote corner of Lagos in Nigeria, a stranger sets off from a sprawling shanty town in a battered taxi to deliver a homeless, whimpering boy to an orphanage where the welcoming staff hide a terrible secret.
Thousands of miles away, at a squalid flat in the moss-swamped alleyways of drab maisonettes near the Cardiff docks, an early morning CID raid goes catastrophically wrong when the police are not the only unexpected guests.
Within seconds, a high-flying plain clothes officer, DS Bob Garratt, is shot dead at point blank range and the suspect they had been tracking is left in a coma. The killer, whose identity is unknown, slips away.
Young and inexperienced, Will MacReady has just started his first day with the CID and the shooting plunges him in at the deep end. With the city in a state of shock and the entire force reeling, he is desperate to help but is soon out of his depth as passions run high and the team is led down an increasingly dark path.
When another body is found in the harbour, after almost ritualistic mutilation, MacReady quickly realises that this job will be harder than he had ever dreamed and that his colleagues will need his input more than he had ever imagined.
But it is not only work that is testing MacReady to the limit… his feckless, chaotic older brother Stuart is in trouble again and has moved into the house Will shares with his wife Megan. And it couldn’t have come at a worst possible time because the couple have problems of their own…
Thomas packs this edgy thriller with fast-paced action sequences, believable characters and some tasty plot twists but it is the breathtakingly real police procedural, slick dialogue and taut, stripped-to-the-bone writing that grabs the reader and won’t let go.
Joining freshman Will MacReady and the doggedly cynical, tough-as-old-boots CID team at Cardiff central is about as near as crime fans will get to tagging along with a real murder squad and Thomas’ ability to sum a scene or a character in the least number of words only adds to the brisk, brusque tone of this lean but seductive thriller.
With flashes of Thomas’ now trademark black humour and a story that that dares to visit the darkest corners of our planet, this series has the power to run and run…
(Zaffre, paperback, £7.99)