Wednesday, 7 July 2021

True Crime Story by Joseph Knox

The idea of having a twin fascinates me. As an only child, I find it difficult enough to imagine having a sibling, but to have someone in your life from birth, of exactly the same age, is something else again; it's bound to create an extraordinary bond and also, in some cases, extraordinary complications. Twins have naturally found their way into crime fiction, and Ronald Knox famously fulminated against the cliche of introducing an identical twin without adequate foreshadowing as a means of getting out of a tricky plot hole in his famous Decalogue. I've never actually written a story about twins, but maybe one of these days...

In the meantime, there's a brand new crime novel in which identical twin sisters play a leading part. This is True Crime Story by Joseph Knox (Doubleday). I've never met Joseph, but I became aware of him some years ago when he was mentioned to me as a bookseller with a great love of crime fiction. He made a very successful venture into crime writing with Sirens, which launched a series of three books. Now he has written this stand-alone.

It's appealing, quite apart from the presence of identical twins, for its structure. This is a novel firmly within the 'casebook' tradition - a branch of crime writing that I very much enjoy (although again I've never written a novel structured in this way - yet). The Moonstone remains a classic example, but there are plenty of other books which show the potential of this form of writing, including Sayers' The Documents in the Case, Robert Player's The Ingenious Mr Stone, and Vera Caspary's Laura. Here, Knox offers us not just one unreliable narrator, but a whole bunch of them.

The story deals with the vanishing some years ago of a Manchester student, Zoe Nolan, and the consequences of her sudden disappearance. The story is told as a sort of true crime narrative, which various people who were closely involved with Zoe interviewed by a writer called Evelyn. An added layer of complexity is created by the involvement of Knox himself in the material which surrounds the record of events. There is a long series of emails between Evelyn and Knox, often redacted, which heighten the air of mystery. 

One of the dangers of this type of story is that the voices of the various viewpoint characters may not be adequately contrasted. Knox rises to this challenge very well indeed (the voice of one female character, now working in the HR, is especially well caught) and there are occasional touches of humour which are very welcome in a fundamentally bleak story. There are points when, perhaps, the endless ping-pong of witness statements might have been shortened, but the story gathers pace towards an unusual and intriguing climax. A very engaging novel by a writer of real talent; you'll hear a lot more about him in years to come, I'm sure of that. 

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