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Mike Carlson's Take on Happy Days

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Wednesday, 15 February 2012


GRAHAM HURLEY'S HAPPY DAYS


Joe Faraday is dead, having killed himself at the end of Graham Hurley's previous novel, Borrowed Light, but his presence hovers over Happy Days, the twelfth and final Faraday and Winter book. Paul Winter needs to sort his life out—working for Bazza MacKenzie has become hazardous: he's decided to stand for Parliament in Portsmouth North, and he's running out of money since all his legitimate investments are tanking. And Winter worries increasingly about the murder that he witnessed in Spain coming back to haunt him. The death of Faraday, whose relationship with Winter was problematical, especially after Winter's turn to the dark side, but remained friendly in a quiet kind of way, has helped spur these re-evaluations.

In a way, the key scene of the book is Faraday's funeral, at the Portchester Crematorium, where the officious boss Willard makes a touching speech, and where Hurley's writing is precise and moving, understanding Faraday and letting him go, just as those at the funeral would have to do, but also showing how he still touches the lives of those left behind. The first section of this book may be the best writing in the series; the grief of Faraday's son JJ, mixed with his understanding of his father, and the way that, at the reception, the wheels of the plot go into motion; cops being cops, and Paul Winter being Paul Winter.

That's where Hurley moves into a different gear. One of the series' great strengths has been its willingness to engage directly with the urban problems of Portsnmouth—often from the point of view of those outside the police—social workers, youth workers, ordinary folk. Bazza's Pompey First party and political campaign give him plenty of scope for one last scan of the harbor, and a cutting take on the realities of local politics. If there's an influence here, it's The Long Good Friday, the efforts of a villain to go respectable, the ego behind such moves, and the blind spot he develops as his original empire begins to crumble. Hurley is very funny with the campaign stunts cooked up by his advisers, a kind of south coast West Wing operation – and it's really the overwhelming swagger that he's built for MacKenzie over the years that makes this work.

Bazza's need for cash could open him up, once and for all, to the police. His plan to salvage a million quid from a northern drug baron, Skelley, who in an earlier book wound up with Bazza's emergency store of cocaine. Winter is the middleman, but Winter also wants to get out, and Jimmy Suttle, protege of both him and Faraday, is the link to yet another undercover operation again MacKenzie. Suttle and his journalist wife Lizzie have a new baby, Winter is the godfather, and Suttle wants to get away from Pompey altogether and out to the country.

Complicating matters is Winter's ongoing relationship with Bazza's former mistress Misty,
and Lizzie's journo friend Gillian, who's hanging around Bazza's campaign and getting more involved than she should. When the campaign starts to go tits-up, as Bazza would say, it's because Bazza has offended some of the young Pompey scrotes—the young Bazzas whom he think's he's left behind. And as the cash-flow crisis gets work, Bazza goes into debt to Cesar Dobroslaw, his equivalent in Southampton. When Pompey's top villain has to ask a scummer for help, you know he's in big trouble.

In the end, however, Hurley's books are about the people, and Winter brings events to a head by making things personal. The story finishes with another death, and Jimmy Suttle moves off to the Devon & Cornwall constabulary, and a new series. Over the past 12 years, Graham Hurley's Portsmouth novels have been among the very best British crime fiction, and as I've written many times before, deserve to be better-known and more appreciated. Seen as a self-contained story, with Pompey at the centre, I can't think of anything that matches it.

Happy Days by Graham Hurley
Orion £12.99

ISBN 9781409101253


Posted by Michael Carlson


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