Set in the London underworld of 1936, Fleet Street reporter Johnny Steadman is tipped-off about a Snow Hill policeman's death. When he asks questions at the station, he's met with a blank wall of silence. Shortly afterwards, in search of a lead, he encounters a man's bloody death at close hand - but still persists in asking questions, discovering police corruption lies at the core. To unmask the killer he ends up having to go undercover as a dead man...
This is the debut novel (but not debut book) by Telegraph and Evening Standard journalist, and Seven magazine fiction reviewer, Mark Sanderson.
The novel garnered good reviews in certain areas of the press - including the Daily Telegraph (hmmm) - and plaudits from the likes of Melvyn Bragg and Jake Arnott. But here's the dichotomy: many reviewers on Amazon don't rate it at all, and the people who buy the books are the most important audience of all.
I fall somewhere in the middle of the two camps. `Snow Hill' has its good points: the author does inject a level of dark atmosphere and period feel, putting excellent research to good use, but he sometimes overplays his hand at this, slowing down the narrative - not an especially prudent thing to do in a crime thriller. In addition to the occasionally plodding pace, it's packed with clichés, some stereotypical characters, and Sanderson sometimes strives too hard for literary effect and, for me, fails.
I don't wish to be too harsh on the guy because the story is good, but as a journalist and book critic he's discovered how hard it is to make all the important elements of a novel - plot, characterisation, narrative tug, prose, etc. coalesce into a satisfying whole.
The first part of a projected trilogy, I came away from the book disappointed because thirties London is such an interesting, noir-ish era in which to set crime fiction. I know how hard it is to produce publishable material, so I won't be giving up on Mr Sanderson just yet. I'll look-up book two when I get the time and I'm sure he'll have learned hard lessons from the mixed response to `Snow Hill'.