Avon | 2017 | 480p | Review copy | Buy the book
John Sagan is a killer for hire and he deals out death with the utmost and coldest violence in his caravan, known and feared by many in London as the Pain Box. DS Mark ‘Heck’ Heckenberg is after him. And his drive to catch him intensifies when one of Heck’s informants narrowly escapes from the Pain Box with her life. But the best laid plans have a habit of going wrong and Sagan dodges Heck’s trap. The rumours suggest that Sagan has fled north, to Bradburn, Heck’s hometown and a town caught in a gangland war. Heck follows but yet more death awaits him, this time in the terrible form of the Incinerator – a masked man who murders with fire.
Heck is not your ordinary detective. Instead, he is a maverick who hovers on the edges of procedure, ready to do whatever it takes to lock away evil, irritating without fail his superiors. Ashes to Ashes is the sixth novel in the series and so we’re familiar now with Heck’s uneasy relationship with his immediate boss in the Serious Crimes Unit, Detective Superintendent Gemma Piper, but new readers will have no problem picking up both their history and the tension. In Bradburn, among a new team of officers, Heck displays his usual disregard for following orders but a grudging respect grows on both sides as his unusual methods are shown to bring results.
I am such a fan of this series and couldn’t wait to read it. These books are always dark and violent but Ashes to Ashes takes this further, not just because of the nature of the murders but also because of the gangland presence throughout the novel. Nasty people walk these pages, some of whom fall foul, as Sagan and the Incinerator trawl for victims. The murders, though, are particularly unpleasant and there were a few pages that I had to skim through. The gangland aspect isn’t something that I find especially appealing in crime fiction and so I can’t say that Ashes to Ashes is my favourite of the series but that’s more my fault than the book’s.
Paul Finch is an excellent writer who has created one of the most successful and memorable figures in crime fiction. Heck isn’t perfect by any means, but he’s a man you’d want on your side, fighting for you. You know he wouldn’t give up. We learn a little more about his background here as he returns to his roots in Bradburn. It leads to self-reflection and doubt. But if ever there was a town in need of saving, in need of Heck, it’s this one.
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