There was a view, not so long ago, that sales of horror fiction were in decline because many of the tropes the genre employed were being nicked by crime writers - mainstream, best-selling writers at that. That may have been a simplistic explanation but there's certainly an element of truth buried within it. Violent, gory death and psychologically damaged serial killers have become a mainstay of the slightly more "respectable" genre. To be honest, I don't think it's that much of a problem, there's enough room for both genres to flourish and, in a way, it's a good thing for horror to move on, find new themes and tropes to unsettle readers. It's a fine line, I guess, between the two genres and there are many excellent examples of cross-over between the two. Most notable are the Charlie Parker novels from John Connolly but I'll also chuck in a couple of personal favourites, Reaping the Dark by Garry McMahon and Ben Jones' Pennies for Charon as further evidence.
All of which - possibly unnecessary - preamble is by way of introducing a review of a crime novel on a horror review site, namely The Corpse Role by Keith Nixon.
As the title may suggest, mortal remains have a large part to play in the narrative and, indeed, the story begins with the unearthing of a body from a shallow grave. The body turns out to be that of a security guard implicated in an armoured van heist two years previously. A business card from a former policeman, turned private investigator is found in his wallet and so begins a briskly paced, twisting tale of murder, corruption and shock revelations.
The story is told in two timelines - the present involving the ongoing investigation led by DI Charlotte Granger and another (with the chapters titled "the past") which turns out to be the events leading up to the heist. It's a clever technique and one which is executed perfectly. The "past" sections are written in first person, present tense - a device which has the reader constantly questioning who it is that's actually narrating and what, if any, connection they have to the present day investigation.
There's a lot going on in The Corpse Role, and a lot of characters to keep up with. This, along with the double timeframe device, could have easily gotten out of control but it's testament to the author's skill that he marshals everything effortlessly, keeping the plot banging along at a cracking pace and, most importantly, keeping the reader alongside him.
The characters are all well drawn (my favourite a crime boss with a novel way of fertilising his garden) with plenty of realistic dialogue (particularly of the awkward kind between people whose relationship isn't quite what it used to be) which enhance the narrative without distracting from it, or holding it back.
There are twists and turns all the way, and a lovely feeling of things falling into place as the narrative progresses but the biggest revelation is kept to the very end. It's a gamble, using such a dramatic device and the book as a whole hangs on whether it works or not.
I very much enjoyed The Corpse Role, imaginative, clever and with a no-nonsense writing style it's a book I recommend very much. You can buy it here.