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by J M Gregson
Severn House, October 2009
208 pages
10.99 GBP
ISBN: 1847511147

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Tim Hayes is a highly successful businessman in the North Lancashire town of Brunton. However the respectable public face presented by his electronics business masks the much more considerable profits he makes from his gambling and prostitution activities. It is not surprising that such a man should have enemies but Tim Hayes accumulates them by the bucket load; his wife, his discarded mistress, her husband, his original partner, his chief 'enforcer' whose girlfriend he rapes. When Hayes is shot and killed DCI 'Percy' Peach and his fiancee and partner DS Lucy Blake have a host of suspects to sift through before they can identify who was responsible.

WILD JUSTICE, the thirteenth book in the Peach series, follows Gregson's usual form which has served him well both in this series and in the 22 books in the Lambert and Hook series. He is a writer who has discovered a format which suits him and applies it with considerable fecundity (he produces at least one and often two books a year). This format has both strengths and weaknesses as does Gregson's writing as a whole. In terms of plot the tried and trusty narrative of 'describe the victims and suspects, murder, investigation, solution' is not one which can really be quibbled with. The problem is that all too often the solution seems more or less arbitrary; this is not to say that Gregson does not show how it is arrived at, but it is clear that he could have picked any of the suspects if he so wished and there is rarely anything particularly surprising or clever about his final choice. Such is exactly the case here; there is nothing wrong with the solution but the reader feels that there were several other options which would have been equally convincing. This lends a certain randomness to the plotting and means that while it is always adequate it is rarely anything more than that.

In terms of other features of Gregson's writing the great strength of the Peach series is the comic element which takes the form of the incredibly dim, self-serving and useless Chief Superintendent Thomas Tucker. Bad superior officers are a near cliché of police series and come in a number of forms from the corrupt to the stupid; Tucker belongs firmly at the latter end of the spectrum and as an example of this breed probably has few peers. The encounters between Peach and Tucker are always the highlights of the books and even when the initial shine has worn off (because they are repetitive) remain something to be savoured. Unfortunately to set against this there is a major weakness in Gregson's writing ; this is the sheer unreality of his social description, especially that involving any sort of criminality. In some books he avoids this by sticking to a middle-class milieu in which he is clearly at home. When however, as in parts of WILD JUSTICE, he moves into the world of organised crime, gangs, violence, prostitution then the lack of realism becomes very apparent; at best he works in stereotype, at worst the writing becomes almost embarrassing.

While it would be unfair to say that all Gregson's books are identical - there are differences between the series and in the quality - they do share a format which is at once reassuring to long-term readers but also ultimately limiting and repetitive. The differences in quality are largely a function of the milieu in which any particular book is set; the farther the writer strays from a middle class world (and I emphasise I have absolutely no problem in any writer sticking with that world if that is where they feel their strength lies) the shakier his writing becomes. WILD JUSTICE, because it goes beyond the middle-class, is not one of Gregson's better efforts, and the plot that proceeds along his usual pattern is nothing to get excited about either. Despite this, long-term fans will certainly not be disappointed and there is a comfortable solidity, leavened by humour, which make the book a passable addition to Gregson's rapidly expanding list of titles.

Reviewed by Nick Hay, February 2010

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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