Emma Schofield reviews the latest instalment in the Gethin Grey series as John Lincoln returns with a new crime mystery set in and around Cardiff in Grey in the Dark.
There’s a subtle shift in tone as Gethin Grey returns with the Last Resort Legals team in the latest instalment from the pen of John Lincoln. Grey in the Dark picks up Gethin’s narrative a short time after the first book, Fade to Grey, ended but operations have been upscaled somewhat since the first novel.
As you might expect, Gethin and his team are still focused on investigating miscarriages of justice in and around South Wales, but their personal lives have changed. Gethin is coming to terms with the breakdown of his marriage and juggling his career around his new life as a single father. He’s joined, one again, by colleagues Bex and, the seemingly unstoppable, Lee as they are asked to look in to the brutal murder of a young local woman, Kelly Rowlands. Rowlands’ death has led to the conviction of builder Morgan Hopkins and left a trail of destruction and broken relationships in its wake. With the Last Resort Legals team hired by Morgan’s family in a desperate bid to get his conviction overturned, Gethin finds himself drawn increasingly into a world of tangled connections and shady transactions.
More than once, Gethin finds himself wandering casually into danger in the course of his investigations; as with the first book in the series, Gethin’s naivety is both frustrating and endearing. His determination to uncover the truth leads Gethin into situations which sometimes feel a little forced and which don’t fully do justice to the plot. There is a scene where Gethin rocks up to meet a puppet maker he suspects of being involved in the murder and she casually shows him puppets which are fashioned in the exact image of the victim and the main suspects, all of which feels somewhat contrived. Similarly, Gethin’s continuing sense of bewilderment at the needs of his own daughter doesn’t entirely ring true. For someone whose whole business centres on being finely attuned to subtleties in human behaviour, Gethin does seem to be capable of some serious clangers.
In fact, Gethin is at his strongest when propped up by Bex and Lee. In many ways, it’s difficult not to become more invested in their story than in Gethin’s. Anyone who has read the first book in the series will be familiar with Gethin and his haphazard approach to work, love and parenting. It doesn’t feel like much has changed here, he’s the same guy and sometimes it’s impossible not to be frustrated by the way he ambles into situations (such as an ill-advised visit to a valley’s pub in search of information), without any apparent plan. It’s very much the wing-and-a-prayer approach, which does grow a little tiresome after a while; perhaps it’s intended to. In contrast, Bex and Lee hold the key to many of Grey in the Dark’s more subtle plot developments. All too often their role seems to be to bail Gethin out, when there is so much more that they could be doing.
It’s always difficult to review these kind of books without giving the plot away, but there are plenty of twists as the murder case unfolds, perhaps more so than we saw in the first instalment. Lincoln is hitting his stride as a writer of this kind of crime-based thriller. For the most part, this time around the narrative is slicker and the details of the case that little bit more polished. There’s certainly a space for this kind of novel with a uniquely Welsh angle. There may be no shortage of literary thrillers on the market, but there are few which ground themselves so firmly within a Welsh setting and make it front and centre to the plot. It’s an approach Lincoln has been refining within his own work for several decades, even in his pre-pseudonym days as John Williams. It’s an interesting evolution from the tumbling chaos of the city centre in Cardiff Dead, to the Last Chance Legals offices in the Bay and yet, Cardiff remains distinct in its identity as a city perched on the edge of a much wider valleys community.
If intrigue and mystery are what you’re looking for, there’s plenty to find in Grey in the Dark. The book takes us on a whistlestop tour of a darker version of South Wales, where money talks and there is an undercurrent of sex and danger that wouldn’t feel out of place in a tale of mafia dealings. At times it does feel like a stretch, but, set that aside and there’s more than enough intrigue here to keep the plot spinning and twisting until the end.
Grey in the Dark is published by No Exit press and is due for release on February 23rd.