Pitch Black by Alex Gray

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Pitch Black by Alex Gray

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Category: Crime
Rating: 2.5/5
Reviewer: Paul Curd
Reviewed by Paul Curd
Summary: A serial killer seems to be knocking off unlikeable footballers and corrupt referees in this crime novel with a strong footballing flavour. As police procedurals go, this is pretty run-of-the-mill.
Buy? No Borrow? No
Pages: 352 Date: April 2008
Publisher: Sphere
ISBN: 978-1847440686

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Pitch Black opens with a footballer's wife escaping the scene of her abusing husband's murder. As fate (or, in this case, author Alex Gray) would have it, her path crosses that of DCI Lorimer of Strathclyde Police as he and his wife Maggie return from a three-week holiday in Mull. Janis Faulkner, the WAG in question, is quickly arrested. Her husband, Nicko, one of two new signings for First Division Glasgow club Kelvin FC, was murdered in the couple's own home with their own bread knife. Lorimer is put on the case, which seems open and shut – except Lorimer's brief encounter with Janis Faulkner has led him to doubt she could have done it. Meanwhile, Maggie Lorimer has taken in a stray ginger cat in a dreadfully dull sub-plot that is supposed to denote love and loss.

Some time into the investigation of this open-and-shut case, the referee of Kelvin FC's latest match, a cup defeat to Queen of the South, is shot dead in the driveway to his house. The referee had made a number of controversial decisions during the match, decisions that led directly to Kelvin's defeat, and the list of suspects include not only the whole of the Kelvin FC playing and backroom staff but also the innumerable Kelvin Keelies (as the team's fans call themselves). Lorimer and his team are not sure whether the two murders are linked.

Any doubt is dispelled with the shooting dead of the second of Kelvin's summer signings, Jason White. There is definitely a serial killer on the loose. As the investigation plods on, the Kelvin Chairman, Patrick (Big Pat) Kennedy seems to be next on the killer's hit list. The climax of the novel then becomes a race against time – can Lorimer and his team apprehend the killer before he carries out his evil plan?

Alex Gray employs a number of interesting techniques in the telling of her story. Newspaper cuttings, emails, chat room exchanges, the banter of football commentaries. Sometimes these devices come off. Sometimes, though, they feel contrived and repetitive, annoyingly summarising or explaining what the reader has already surmised. Gray also has an irritating habit of getting her characters to ask themselves endless questions. Could she really have killed her husband? Lorimer asks himself. Good writers – writers like Ian Rankin, for instance – usually leave the reader to ask such questions themselves. On other occasions, Gray uses the question as a device for trying to increase tension: She was safe, but for how much longer? It is a lazy way of trying to make her story more gripping. When she has Lorimer ask himself, What was likely to happen to Kelvin after this season? Could they possibly survive after the events of these past weeks? I'm afraid I asked myself, Who cares?

I may be being harsh, but Gray and her publishers have brought that on themselves by comparing Gray with the great Ian Rankin. In this novel, Gray even has a ghostly spirit of a past player called Rankin lurking in the club boot room (and playing a major part in the tale that I won't reveal). The problem is, Gray is nowhere near Rankin's league (if you'll excuse the pun). Too often, Gray distances the reader from the action by filtering it through the eyes of her characters. For example, she might say something like, Lorimer saw that the man had a gun. Rankin would say, The man had a gun. It's a small point, but such things make the action more immediate. These are the errors of a novice novelist, and, as Gray made clear in a recent article in shotsmag, she is still is only a novice. On the plus side, the whodunit element of the novel works well. There is a full cast of suspects and the novel is littered with clues, motives and red herrings. I didn't know until the denouement who the killer was, so full marks to Gray for that.

Maybe one day she will get into the premier league, but she isn't there yet.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

Further reading: There are so many good cop series out there already – if what you want is Scottish noir then why not go straight for anything by Ian Rankin?

Alex Gray's DCI Lorimer novels in Chronological Order

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Buy Pitch Black by Alex Gray at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Pitch Black by Alex Gray at Amazon.co.uk Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy Pitch Black by Alex Gray at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Pitch Black by Alex Gray at Amazon.com.


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