How do you make a noir cocktail? You need some mean streets, world weary cops, nasty hoods and a femme fatale. Throw in some bad weather, a few critical miscalculations, bad luck, bad timing and watch it all unfold as Simon Kernick shoots that cocktail right out of your hand.
THE MURDER EXCHANGE is an old fashioned knuckle sandwich kind of story. It’s told from two points of view. Max Iversson is an ex-mercenary now partners in a security company called Tiger Solutions. When Max sees an opportunity for a fast buck from a sleazeball night club owner, Max jumps in with both feet.
Alternating with Max is DS John Gallan of London’s Metropolitan Police. Gallan has his own problems; his case load includes a couple of unsolved homicides. He’s been demoted and works for an ass kissing boss. His partner is young and not very useful. Gallan’s wife is living with another man and he rarely gets to see his daughter.
Gallan and Iversson are working different sides of the same street. DS Gallan is a dedicated cop, but he can’t touch the real villains, crime kingpins of the Holtz family. Krys Holtz is the sadistic heir to the criminal throne and he doesn’t mind the use of power tools to get his point across.
Max is on the run from an ambush in the novel’s opening scene. He throws in with Elaine who offers him shelter from the storm. Max is impulsive; when he gets the idea to kidnap Krys Holtz, you know things are going to go badly wrong.
Simon Kernick does a good job of balancing the dynamic Max with the sometimes plodding and introspective John Gallan. He also lays out the novel’s theme concisely; Gallan may be slow, but justice will be served. The backstory weaves in the unsolved murder of a paperboy with the mayhem Max and his cohorts have set off. It sets up the resolution of the story and manages to be both credible and satisfying.
Some of the thematic emphasis is overdone. The characters tend to summarize the novel’s ideas in a way that feels intrusive at times. There are predictable elements to the story in part because it feels like a morality play. Most noir fiction reflects a conservative social view, bad behavior is not to be rewarded, but the reader doesn’t want to be reminded of these rules of engagement.
THE MURDER EXCHANGE is a nominee for a Barry award at next month’s Bouchercon confab in Toronto. There’s tough competition from the likes of Val McDermid and Mark Billingham to name a few. Simon Kernick has staked out his turf with this novel. It’s North London in a driving rain in the wee hours of the night, and that’s trouble, just the way we like it.