Stark Contrasts

Stark-Contrasts2Written by Peter Carroll — Have you ever wanted to snatch the iPod away from that youth in the next seat on the train, and fling it the length of the carriage? When you were sitting in the restaurant, deafened by the City wide boy at the next table braying into his Blackberry, did you ever dream of doing something unspeakable to him, probably involving his smartphone? Well, you are not alone, and in this fast-paced London thriller, someone is going around doing exactly what you wish you had the nerve to do. Except that they are going just a little bit further, and the results are far from pretty.

The task of tracking down this social avenger falls to Detective Inspector Adam Stark. He is from Alloa, hitherto only known to devotees of the Saturday afternoon football results, where their struggles with the likes of Brechin and Stranraer are dutifully reported. He has been posted south, and has to endure a constant barrage of jibes and niggles about his heritage which, had he been African or Asian, would certainly constitute racism. Aided by his beautiful partner, he struggles to make sense of a series of vigilante-style attacks, which seem to escalate from restorative justice to violent revenge.

The narrative certainly crackles with action, and we are not spared the gory details of the vengeance exacted upon the hapless victims. There is an interesting plot twist when one of the victims turns out be the scion of a well-connected family of violent gangsters, thus giving rise to a revenge-for-revenge sequence. In his battle to solve the case, Stark has to struggle through a sticky web of suburban petty villains, from the pedantic and authoritarian chairman of a swimming club to the low-rent doormen of a night club.

The book is well edited. This shouldn’t be an accolade, but in these days where anyone can be published, there is a sad lack of consistency in how books are presented to the reading – and paying – public. To maintain the mystery of who the real villains are, the author has different voices narrating different chapters. He lets us into the secret gradually, but the ultimate revelation was actually quite a surprise, and shows that Peter Carroll knows how to put an engaging story together.

This is a short book which is hardly more than a novella, but it is an entertaining read, and good food is sometimes served up in small portions. You may find the split-narrative technique irritating and puzzling at first, but it is essential to the author’s intention to keep the big secret from us until almost the last moment. Adam Stark is an engaging enough character, but as a Scottish detective, he is struggling for space in a very crowded literary room. His partner, Detective Constable Lara Katz is an alluring and admirable foil for her boss, but the author does rather labour the point that Stark finds it increasingly difficult to ignore what used to be called his ‘manly stirrings’ for his exotic junior. Maybe he should just do what comes naturally, so we can get on with what promises to be an engaging series of battles between Stark and a rich cast of metropolitan villains.

Raven Crest Books
£0.99
Kindle

CFL Rating: 4 Stars

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