Rhyming Rings by David Gemmell

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Rhyming Rings by David Gemmell

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Category: Crime
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: Lesley Mason
Reviewed by Lesley Mason
Summary: A decent enough crime caper, that only hints at the direction that Legendary author David Gemmell was ultimately to take. Fans will be interested in it from an author development perspective; crime readers won’t find it a waste of time, but there are better offerings out there.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Maybe
Pages: 272 Date: May 2017
Publisher: Gollancz
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1473219922

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David Gemmell is a well-known name. Until his death in 2006 he topped the UK author lists in fantasy and historical fiction… but some will suggest that this previously unpublished manuscript shows that he might have gone in a different direction entirely. He might have opted for a life of crime. Crime fiction that is. I'll come back to that.

A man driving on a wet road nearly kills a child. He's swerved and slowed enough so that although the child is thrown from his bike and into the gutter, he's not badly hurt. The driver is as shaken as the boy…but he goes home, watches a movie, eats dinner…and then calmly heads out with a six-inch needle in his pocket, and a black balaclava, jauntily bearing a hand-stitched message: DEATH.

Jeremey Miller is a struggling journalist. It's not so much journalism that he struggles with as life in general. He doesn’t do friendship particularly well; girlfriends, well, no not really. He has a sharp line in sarcasm and it tends to escape before he's thought through the implications. This gives everyone else the not entirely unjustified view that he's not a team player. So when the big story comes along – the strangest of murders – Jeremy is not on the investigative team. He's assigned the local human interest stories: the paraplegic teenager, the elderly psychic lady.

But the first death, is only a first and more follow…and it would appear that the psychic may actually, genuinely, not-conning-anyone, be psychic. She may not be the only one.

This is 1980s and the all-too-common British backdrop of the time was: social tension, institutionalised racism in the police force, the newspaper industry beginning to realise that technology was catching up with it and Thatcher was eroding the unions, and on the estates a full scale riot was only an excuse away. Meanwhile, not too far away were people making really serious money. Millionaire was a description beginning to lose its kudos.

Gemmell captures all of this perfectly. He tells a crime tale routed in social commentary. He captures believable characters. Billing it as a thriller doesn't work for me. Conn Iggulden makes some serious comparisons in his introduction to the advance reading copy. I'm afraid I don't agree. It doesn't have the tension of a Lee Child, or the humour or consistency of voice of a Chandler. I can see why Gemmell didn't publish it once he was influential enough to have done so. It's a journeyman piece.

Handed this from an unknown, I would be saying that they are one to watch. It is cleverly crafted. As a straight crime novel, it works. Clues and red herrings and I was very late getting the culprit. Characters that are believable and make you root for them. There's even some grand philosophy thrown in there too. All of which brings me back to the notion that Gemmell might have gone down the 'thriller' route…I don't think so.

I don't think so because of Ethel Hurst and Mr Sutcliffe. A psychic and an earth healer. And not a hint of mockery in sight. Even here, in this early, unpublished work, Gemmell's interest in what we choose to call fantasy is strongly to the fore. He was only going in one direction from here.

Before you argue that fantasy and history are two directions, I beg to differ. Both involve worlds in which the belief systems were/are very different to what we currently live with. Gemmell would have made a decent crime writer, but on this showing I think he made the right choice when he moved away from trying to rework the kind of age-worn trope that ultimately sits behind this one.

As a newcomer work, it works. For Gemmell fans it has the added interest of illustrating a writer's beginnings and development – but it barely hints at what he was capable of.

Scoring it purely on its own merits it comes out at a 3.5 out of 5. Better than average, but nowhere near the 'you should read this' range.

For where it was all heading we can recommend Legend.

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