"The Two O'Clock Boy" Mark Hill

The Two O'Clock Boy


One night changed their lives
Thirty years ago, the Longacre Children's Home stood on a London street where once-grand Victorian homes lay derelict. There its children lived in terror of Gordon Tallis, the home's manager.
Cries in the fire and smoke
Then Connor Laird arrived: a frighteningly intense boy who quickly became Tallis' favourite criminal helper. Soon after, destruction befell the Longacre, and the facts of that night have lain buried . . . until today.
A truth both must hide
Now, a mysterious figure, the Two O'Clock Boy, is killing all who grew up there, one by one. DI Ray Drake will do whatever it take to stop the murders - but he will go even further to cover up the truth.

As first lines go, this is a killer.

"The boy loved his parents more than anything on this Earth. And so he had to kill them." 

I was instantly hooked. And with each line, the writing just got better and better. 
"Perched on the edge of his bunk, he listened to them now. The squeak of their soles on the deck above as they threw recriminations back and forth in voices as vicious as the screeching seagulls wheeling in the sky. He heard the crack of the sail in the wind, the smack of the water against the hull inches from his head...Slap....slap....slap...." 
The threat of menace is so darkly palpable through Hill's description of the boat; the words "slap, vicious, crack" and "smack" all instantly implying violence, aggression and murder. I loved the line "His love for them was untethering, drifting away on a fierce tide.....Slap...slap....slap.." The metaphorical power of such a simple phrase is so effective and not at all the kind of lyrical phrases I was expecting when picking up this new debut crime thriller. 
By the end of the first page, there was nothing drifting or untethering about my attention - it was well and truly caught. 
This anonymous character whose voice opens the story - and who we know only to be a boy - is utterly chilling. He is filled with corrosion and bitterness; fury and rage:
"Already he felt anger swelling like a storm where his love had been." 
As the novel continued, I was determined to enjoy Hill's descriptions and clever use of language despite the speed at which the story races along. I liked his image of "clots of people gathered in the sweep of the cherry lights to watch the proceedings from the outer cordon..." for a crime scene. The subtle choices of colour and words absolutely brimming with connotation and help creating suspense and tension. Hill has written a gritty, contemporary novel that doesn't shy away from hard hitting scenes but with the more unexpected brush of lyrical description. It bodes for an interesting and original voice. 

As well as an ability to convey scene and atmosphere with such assurance, Hill also creates convincing characters. His description of Kenny here illustrates the more gritty tone of the novel:
"Kenny hated going straight. Loathed it. He'd been a good boy for three years now - three years, eight months and fourteen days to be exact - and every single minute of every single hour had been excruciating."
Continuing with the grit, DI Ray Drake is our man for solving this crime and he has all the ingredients for an engaging character that readers will want to invest in and follow on further adventures. Suitably haunted by a past and a a secret, suitably admired and referred by his colleagues he is a great creation. Again, I could quote much here but have already used up precious word count tantalising you with the opening and don't want to give anything else away for those of you that want to meet this new detective on the block yourselves. I must confess also that I became too absorbed in the plot to remember to keep highlighting good quotes! 
What I will say is that so far critics have draw similarities between "The Two O'Clock Boy" and the TV series "Luther" and I'm hard pushed to better that. This comparison captures the essence of this original detective book. 
Hill is a journalist and a script writer and I think this is evident in his writing. It is very visual, it is very polished and it is very authentic and compelling. Although this is his debut novel, it is clear that he is a talented writer and confident in his ability to thrill, shock and keep you up until the early hours of the morning turning the final pages. 
But don't just take my word for it. The endorsements from other authors is overwhelming. David Young ("Stasi Child") says it is "unsettling and powerful.....shocking edge of the seat twists and a heart stopping finale." Several others use the word "talented". 
This must surely be the start of a hard hitting crime series that will be devoured by those who like to discover dark, fresh writing. 
My thanks to NetGalley for an ARC of this novel in return for a fair review. 
Little Brown publishes "The Two O'Clock Boy" in ebook on 22nd September 2016 and paperback on 6th April 2017.


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