Publication Date: March 8th 2018 from Doubleday
Source: Review Copy
‘I usually experienced the presence of a dead body as an absence, but in this case, it felt like a black hole opening up in front of me’
Disconnected from his history and careless of his future, Detective Aidan Waits has resigned himself to the night shift. An endless cycle of meaningless emergency calls and lonely dead ends. Until he and his partner, Detective Inspector Peter ‘Sutty’ Sutcliffe, are summoned to The Palace, a vast disused hotel in the centre of a restless, simmering city. There they find the body of a man. He is dead. And he is smiling.
The tags have been removed from the man’s clothes. His teeth filed down and replaced. Even his fingertips are not his own. Only a patch sewn into the inside of his trousers gives any indication as to who he was, and to the desperate last act of his life…
But even as Waits puts together the pieces of this stranger’s life, someone is sifting through the shards of his own.
When the mysterious fires, anonymous phone calls and outright threats escalate, he realises that a ghost from his own past haunts his every move.
And to discover the smiling man’s identity, he must finally confront his own.
Incredible. Brilliant writing, brilliant characters, top notch storytelling with a heart of darkness and an emotional resonance rarely found in crime novels. Sirens was good. Very very good. This is another level. Loved loved it.
Descriptively speaking this is hard hitting and has a truly gripping authentic edge – following Aidan through the night shift with his erstwhile partner Sutcliffe, a strong sense of place sits right within the story, the dialogue sparkles with a gritty realism and you just sink into Aidan’s world from the very first page. A slow tense build up of events where eventually past will collide with present in unpredictable and highly poignant ways, Joseph Knox plays on the emotions of the reader with a creative subtlety that I haven’t found elsewhere.
Aidan Waits as a character is endearingly engaging, which is a strange way of describing someone who is seemingly all but broken – but in both Sirens and The Smiling Man the author is building us a picture – of a man who life has happened to, who has allowed life to happen to him. His strength comes from unexpected places, you feel as if you have only just hit the surface layers, despite all that has happened since we met him for the first time in Sirens.
The supporting cast are just as good, the mystery elements are simply part of Aidan’s story, the plotting is intelligent, the setting is alive, the dark underbelly of Manchester shines with a grim yet exquisite beauty. Simply put, there is absolutely nothing negative I can say about this book – well except maybe it was over too soon so Joseph Knox needs to WRITE FASTER DAMMIT, I need to know what is next. Like Sirens, The Smiling Man broke me. Emotional reading trauma – there’s nothing like it.
I can’t leave this review without giving a nod to “Sutty” whose dark wit, human irony and beautifully indirect empathy really added so much to this story – but I guess the same could be said for every character you meet within the pages, they all add to a magnificent, addictive and superbly immersive reading experience.
Overall then I think you can safely say I’m going to be a lifelong fan of this particular author’s storytelling. Bring on many years and many books is what I say.
If you haven’t read Sirens yet start there……
Literary gritty crime at it’s very very best. Highly Recommended.