Luke is a true crime writer in search of a story. When he flees to Brighton after an explosive break-up, the perfect subject lands in his lap: reformed gangster Joss Grand. Now in his eighties, Grand once ruled the Brighton underworld with his sadistic sidekick Jacky Nye – until Jacky washed up by the West Pier in 1968, strangled and thrown into the sea. Though Grand’s alibi seems cast-iron, Luke is sure there’s more to the story than meets the eye, and he convinces the criminal-turned-philanthropist to be interviewed for a book about his life.
Luke is drawn deeper into the mystery of Jacky Nye’s murder. Was Grand there that night? Is he really as reformed a character as he claims? And who was the girl in the red coat seen fleeing the murder scene? Soon Luke realises that in stirring up secrets from the past, he may have placed himself in terrible danger.
I’ve read books by Erin Kelly before, but way before I started my blog. The Poison Tree was excellent – a Richard and Judy Summer Read in 2011, I found it totally gripping, a really well written dual time narrative, with eccentric but convincing characters and a genuinely shocking ending. Then came The Sick Rose – equally excellent story telling, well developed and fascinating characters, great tying together of different time frames, and a real sense of suspense throughout. Then came the flood of other thriller writers, and Erin Kelly vanished from my radar for a while – although I’ve obviously been aware of her involvement in the novel version of series one of Broadchurch, and the “shorts” accompanying the current series.
But I decided to rediscover her writing through The Ties That Bind, which will be published in paperback by Hodder on 29th January. This is a very different book from the ones I’d read before, and I’ll admit to being ever so slightly put off when I realised its focus was Brighton gangland in the 60s. But I needn’t have worried – this was a wonderful old fashioned thriller with a very modern twist, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
The focus of the story is actually Luke Considine, living in Leeds, a writer of true crime who has recently been thwarted – for a whole range of reasons – in finding a suitable subject. While working in a bar at an art gallery to make ends meet, he meets new partner Jem (Jeremy), who has just purchased a very expensive painting and enjoys a very different lifestyle which he’s happy to share with Luke. Their affair is very well drawn, with their initial pleasure at being together soon becoming claustrophobic and obsessional. Luke flees to Brighton, where he comes across the story of Joss Grand and the murder of Jacky Nye, and we follow his story as he builds up his research, manages to get the elusive Grand to tell his story, but always has one eye over his shoulder in case Jem comes in pursuit.
The characters are excellent, including Luke himself – he’s eminently likeable, and has a good clear “voice” throughout, and we share his enthusiasm and excitement as he assembles his research for his planned book. Sandy, with her private archive and secret past, is a wonderful creation who absolutely fascinates: Joss Grand is also beautifully drawn as he reveals his murky past. Even the minor characters are excellent – I loved Luke’s next door neighbours with the wife obsessed with the detail of reproducing vintage clothing. The story twists and turns as Luke tries to identify the girl in the red coat who witnessed the murder, the tension building wonderfully – in relation to Joss Grand’s story and Luke’s past – to a really explosive ending.
A really enjoyable read, and one I’d really recommend to anyone who enjoys a really good story well told, an edge-of-your-seat thriller and the very best of writing. I loved it.
Erin Kelly is the author of the critically acclaimed psychological thrillers The Poison Tree, The Sick Rose and The Burning Air. In 2013, The PoisonTree became a major ITV drama starring MyAnna Buring, Matthew Goode and Ophelia Lovibond. It was a Richard & Judy Summer Read in 2011, and was longlisted for the 2011 CWA John Creasy (New Blood) Dagger Award. The novel has been translated into eleven languages. The Ties That Bind was her fourth novel, and was followed in August by Broadchurch: The Novel, inspired by the first season of 2013’s mega-hit ITV series.