Book review: Sirens by Joseph Knox

'˜We still live in a world where you can disappear if you want to. Or even if you don't.'
Sirens by Joseph KnoxSirens by Joseph Knox
Sirens by Joseph Knox

Meet Detective Constable Aidan Waits, an amphetamine user and a police officer ‘in disgrace,’ cut loose by his bosses and living on the margins of society in the menacing underbelly of Manchester.

Can he bring home a dodgy Cabinet minister’s runaway daughter, solve a cold case and corner one of the city’s most brutal drugs barons to keep his job?

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Joseph Knox, perhaps one of this year’s most promising debut authors, is a young man who spent much of his formative years in and around Manchester. He knows the city’s streets like the back of his hand and this dark, stunning and visceral thriller takes us from the decadence of its high spots to the degradations of its darkest corners.

What he has produced in this stunning first novel is urban noir of the finest quality… a bleak, grittily authentic and gripping journey through corruption, cruelty, suffering, alienation and the devastating realities of the drugs trade.

It seems DC Aidan Waits, a covert user of speed, has been caught bang to rights. He already had two strikes recorded against him for other misdemeanours and now the third could see him lose his job… he was witnessed taking seized cocaine from the secure area lockers at Manchester’s police headquarters.

Waits now has two choices… he can be dismissed, charged, publicly disgraced and shown the inside of a cell, or he can go undercover, infiltrate the empire of dangerous drugs baron Zain Carver to find out which police officers are on his payroll and keep an eye on senior politician David Rossiter’s runaway teenage daughter Isabelle who is living at Carver’s south Manchester house.

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It’s a no-brainer for Waits but Rossiter is a manipulative man with powerful friends and Carver is deadly, radiating ‘cold, clean malice,’ operating a ring of girls called the Sirens who glide from club to club collecting his drugs cash… and he has a reputation for making women disappear.

And as he starts to retrace 17-year-old Isabelle’s steps through a dark, nocturnal world, the troubled detective finds something else… the girl is terrified, and it’s not Carver who is frightening her.

Now deep into Carver’s perilous orbit and moving nearer to the unsolved ten-year disappearance of Joanna Greenlaw, one of the drug dealer’s Sirens, he realises Isabelle was right to run away.

Soon Waits is cut loose by his superiors, stalked by an unseen killer and dangerously attracted to the wrong woman. Now a bad batch of heroin is on the streets and people are dying. Caught between two worlds, can Waits save Isabelle… and himself?

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From its bruising depiction of Manchester’s seedy back streets and criminal lowlife to its exploration of the complexities of contemporary urban existence, Sirens packs a powerful punch as Knox peers into the bars and clubs where gangs, sex workers and drug dealers ply their pitiless trades.

And inside the city that never sleeps are its nocturnal inhabitants… those, like Zain Carver, who are always ready to exploit the weak, the defenceless and isolated, and those few brave souls, like Aidan Waits, who are prepared to risk all even if it means saving just one life.

Knox’s brilliant thriller bowls along at a cracking pace and with all the assurance of a seasoned author as the menace mounts, tensions rise, and the past starts to yield up some shocking secrets.

Taut, tense, twisted, raw and gut-churning, this is a stand-out debut from an exciting new crime writer.

(Doubleday, hardback, £12.99)