Simon Toyne (simontoyne.net)
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The body of a wealthy woman is found in the living room of her ultra-modern, ultra-secure Highgate home, surrounded by four strange objects. DCI Tannahill Khan catches the case and discovers that one of the objects is a book on forensics by Dr Laughton Rees, forensic analyst and lecturer at a nearby university. A brutal stabbing in a wealthy home couldn’t come at a worse time, as the Met Police are about to release their annual crime statistics, which show a massive rise in knife crime on London’s streets. It’s also not going to help Tannahill’s investigation that Laughton Rees is the estranged daughter of the Met’s commissioner and that tabloid lowlife Brian Slade seems to have an inside track on what’s going on, and the juicy history that will only help to sell more papers. A missing husband is the prime suspect, but there’s much more to this case than meets the eye.
Simon Toyne has turned out to be a bit of an all-rounder. From his debut, the apocalyptic Sanctus, to his Reacher-like Solomon Creed, he now finds himself in the world of the British police procedural. And it’s everything you would expect from a Toyne novel: smart, dark, funny and very engaging. It opens on a seemingly-impossible crime scene and immediately adds an extra puzzle on top of the usual “who?” and ”why?”: what are these objects placed so carefully around the body? What do they symbolise? And, most importantly, what do they mean for the direction of Tannahill’s investigation and Toyne’s narrative?
Half-Irish, half-Pakistani, Tannahill Khan is a wonderful lead character in this slick, fast-moving story. A man who works too hard and has little in the way of a social life, he’s solely focused on his job and in trying to deal with whatever this crazy case is going to throw at him next. Toyne nails the Irish mother, and the handful of calls that Tannahill has with her during the course of the novel provide some light relief in an otherwise intense story. Laughton Rees watched her mother die, when she was 15 years old, at the hands of a serial killer. She has blamed her father – the arresting officer – for what happened, and hasn’t spoken to him since. Now mother to a teenage girl, Laughton has problems of her own, and getting pulled into an investigation because the killer saw fit to use her book as a sort of guidebook is the last thing she needs. The two fit well together, despite their differences, and make an excellent team. When Laughton is forced to face her past Tannahill is there to offer support and while the sexual tension is high throughout, Toyne manages to keep everything professional.
The other main character is Brian Slade, journalist for tabloid rag The Daily. Slade is permanently dressed for running and is, without a doubt, the least likeable character in the book. Almost a caricature of the sleazy tabloid newspaperman, Slade won’t let anything – including the truth – stand in the way of a good story. Getting information from someone on the inside, Slade always seems to be one step ahead of Tannahill’s team and has no qualms using a pretty woman to sell more newspapers, especially when it gives him some extra, unexpected ammunition against the Met Police and their commissioner. Toyne handles Slade brilliantly, creating one of the most loathsome characters ever committed to paper. No-one is cheering for this man, and we come away from his scenes feeling that we need a shower.
Dark Objects is not your run-of-the-mill police procedural, despite what first impressions might suggest. This is Simon Toyne doing what he does best: messing about with the format and the genre, creating something that transcends what we can expect from this type of story and producing something totally unique and unpredictable. It’s a brilliantly crafted novel and Toyne’s unique voice shines through from the outset. Dark and designed to grip the reader by the throat from the first page, it’s also a story with a very human element – often with a wry and warped sense of humor – that gives us something to hold on to as we descend into the dark depths of this latest creation. If you’re looking for a different take on good old-fashioned British mysteries, Dark Objects should be top of your list. Likewise if you’re looking for a challenge.
A very welcome return for Toyne, who has been missing from the New Releases shelves for far too long.