A Death in Winter: 1963 by Jim McGrath is not always easy reading. Set in Handsworth, an inner city area of Birmingham in the Midlands, the novel introduces two unusual and unusually appealing characters: Constable Clive Clark, who at 5'7" appears to have been accepted in the police force despite the height requirement, and Constable Michael Collins, a probationer from Ireland. Clark is put in charge of showing Collins the ropes, and the reader quickly gets a sense of character from each man. The author obviously likes his characters, and there quite a few humorous moments as the two adjust to their partnership.
Nevertheless, this is book about some brutal crimes and some depraved individuals. We think of "grooming" in connection to the internet, but there were earlier methods of grooming young people before sexual abuse. Then, as now, those responsible for the abuse are often from areas of life we assume to be respectable.
When Clark and Collins become involved with the murder of a young girl, the investigation appears to be stymied by someone higher up; just how high up is the question. Is the pressure coming from the government itself?
Our intrepid protagonists are not going to give up that easily, but a heavy sense of darkness overhangs elements of the investigation. Nor do Clark and Collins adhere to legality once the people they love are threatened.
(I've read many mysteries and crime novels set in the UK, but I believe this is the first I've read actually set in Birmingham, and I realized I knew very little about it other than familiarity with the name of the city. A little research revealed a long and interesting history. Both W.H. Auden and J.R.R. Tolkien were brought up in Birmingham and the Pre-Raphaelite and Arts and Crafts movements are also associated with the city.)
McGrath has created some memorable characters and a fascinating book that reveals that in spite of all of the changes that have occurred in the last 50+ years, many things remain the same. I look forward to more from Jim McGrath.
Read in April; blog review scheduled for May 4.
Crime/Police Procedural. April 25, 2016. Print length: 274 pages.