Fade to Grey

Written by John Lincoln

Review written by Judith Sullivan

Judith Sullivan is a writer in Leeds, originally from Baltimore. She is working on a crime series set in Paris. Fluent in French, she’s pretty good with English and has conversational Italian and German. She is working to develop her Yorkshire speak.

Fade to Grey
No Exit Press
RRP: £12.99
Released: February 21 2019

I would happily wager that this book will be a “Marmite-Read”. If I were a gambler, I’d say half of its readers will love it, the other half, not so much. The naysayers may be put off by a surfeit of exposition in the early sections, but those who love it, will follow the story by Lincoln (the pen-name of author and reviewer John Williams) with delight.

Fade to Grey is the first instalment in the promising ‘Gethin Grey’ Cardiff and Bristol-based Detective series. Grey is a married father, gambler, son of an intimidating judge and founder of the Last Resort Legals team. LRL offers an interesting twist on the cold-case genre of crime fiction.

As the name suggests, Grey’s team helps convicted criminals (and their supporters) reverse unsafe verdicts made from the past. They naturally charge for their services but there is more crucially, an element of passion in LGL’s approach. The chronic gambler in Grey gets jazzed at the notion of flipping ‘wrongs’ upon their head. His A-team of co-workers includes officer manager Bex, a torch-singer in her off-duty hours, and Deano, a much-tattooed investigator. Though scrappy and hard-working as colleagues, they are also close friends.

The particular case that comes their way, concerns one Ismail Mohammed, serving at her Majesty’s pleasure in Belmarsh. Known as Izma M, he was convicted of murdering a young woman named Hannah Gold in summer 2005. Having rejected his gangster past, he has written an inspirational book and insists he could not (and would not) have, killed casual fling - Hannah.

Izma M has many champions, notably a fifty-something TV starlet named Amelia Laverne (think “Oh, wasn’t she on The Bill or Corrie?”). Laverne’s acting has netted her some funds which she commits to cover LRL’s fees. Her interest is presented purely as general, but it doesn’t take long for LRL to begin thinking her passion may stem from something more personal.

The starstruck LRL team swiftly get stuck in, combing the west of the British Isles for clues that may have been missed a decade back. Of course, it was never going to be easy, and Gethin and Co discover plenty of holes in the prosecution, as well as the defence cases. Izma himself, local copper Mal Haynes and Laverne all have plenty to hide, but they’re no match for Grey’s crack team.

The reader is treated to some sunny interludes away from the Welsh greyness. A series of events in Cyprus in 2001 is recounted in truncated style - with the chapters tucked within the main narrative. The insertions are well done and craftily woven into the fabric of Fade.

The most dysfunctional character in the novel is Gethin himself. A recovering gambler, he has established a fragile domestic harmonium with his wife Cat and teenage daughter Hattie. The reader quickly figures out how shaky the foundations of the Grey ménage, are. Gethin is distant with his wife, preoccupied with his daughter, and the allure of the green-baize blackjack table is ever-present in his life, as well an interest in females other than his wife.

Fade is a brisk read, full of the busy nature of life, as the narrative contains twists and turns that surprise as well as bewilder. The downside, which often cloud series openers, is the baggage, the exposition which occupies the opening third of the book, before the story takes off and hits top gear.

Lincoln at times lets himself get bogged down in detailing character back-stories, including Gethin himself. Most fictional cops and PIs are addicted to something, and Gethin is no exception with his gambling obsession.

Lincoln astutely lays out the siren calls and danger signals. Sadly, the information overload in the early part of the novel, may deter some readers impatient to get on with the nuts and bolts of the investigation. 

I have no doubt the next instalment will fully utilise the benefits of the back-stories of Gethin and his crew; as they are an interesting and complex array of souls, made vivid by the author’s confident voice. 

I am rooting for Gethin’s domestic situation to improve, and look forward to the next book with eager anticipation.

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