Written by Neil Cross

Review written by Adrian Magson

Adrian Magson is the author of 27 crime and spy thrillers. 'Death at the Old Asylum', the 8th title in the Inspector Lucas Rocco series set in 1960s France, currently in ebook, comes out in paperback on the 14th March via Canelo Books. More information:

Simon & Schuster
RRP: £12.99
Released: 7th January 2010
Trade Pbk

When Kenny, a young portrait artist, learns that he is dying of cancer and has just six weeks to live, he reflects on his life and feels there are people he has let down in some way. Although stunned by the awful news, he decides to find them and put things right before it is too late.

He makes out a list, with just four names on it:

Mary, his former wife, mother of their stillborn child.

Mr Jaganathan, a shopkeeper who, years before, had prevented an assault on a young boy by a predatory paedophile, with Kenny as an unreliable witness.

Thomas Kintry, the young boy victim of the attempted assault.

Callie Barton, a fellow classmate at junior school, and Kenny’s first love.

Although Kenny has remained on good terms with Mary, he can’t initially bring himself to tell her his problem. Instead, he gives her a series of sketches she had modelled for some years before, deciding to deal with the other names first.

The shopkeeper, Mr Jaganathan, suffered a heart attack after rescuing Thomas Kintry. To his everlasting shame, Kenny, even with his artist’s eye for detail, was unable to provide a description of the attacker, and this has always left him feeling guilty. However, he finds that the shopkeeper has since died, and there is nothing more he can do there.

Thomas Kintry, the young boy, is now grown up and completely unaffected by the event. Thomas reassures Kenny that he has nothing to feel guilty about, that he could have only seen Thomas’s attacker for a few seconds, so no description was possible. He has moved on with his life, and Kenny can cross him off his list.

Callie Barton, however, is a different matter altogether. Kenny discovers that she has gone missing, and her husband, Jonathan Reese, although cleared of any involvement, appears to be hiding something. Before he knows it, Kenny is crossing the line of conventional, law-abiding behaviour, and breaks into Reese’s house, determined to find out what happened to a person he sees as his childhood Guinevere, to bring her back and make her a story with an ending.

He eventually kidnaps Reese, and takes him to his remote cottage/studio, to force him to reveal what happened to Callie, even to use violence if necessary. In doing so, he find himself treating Reese in a way he could never have imagined, spurred on by distant childhood memories and the burning urgency to get the mystery resolved while he still can.

Although acting alone and feeling isolated, around Kenny are people who care for him; Mary, his ex-wife; Stever, her genial husband; Pat an ex-police officer who has tried to help him trace Callie by contacting a private detective.

I was expecting (unfairly) to find this a well-trodden path of a man told he is dying, deciding to do something noble or drastic, then finding it has all been a huge mistake.

Instead, it is a gripping story of a man moved by conscience and kindness, short of time and facilities, who steps into unknown territory in the search for truth. It’s unsettling and absorbing, accompanying Kenny into dark corners he has never envisaged, yet knowing he has no other choice but to press on, even though he doesn’t like what he is doing and can’t tell any of his friends.

It’s beautifully put together, without unnecessary over-description, yet very moving. While one might feel a sense of unease or distaste at Kenny’s actions, there’s also a feeling understanding for a dying man desperate to hang on to an old, childhood memory and a relationship that might have been.

Neil Cross is a scriptwriter (he was previously lead scriptwriter on BBC’s spy drama ‘Spooks’), and the author of seven other novels.

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