Tony Parson’s Murder Bag: book review

Tony Parsons Murder Bag

Stars: 3.5/5

Blurb: The gripping first novel in an explosive new crime series by Tony Parsons, bestselling author of Man and Boy. If you like crime-novels by Ian Rankin and Peter James, you will love this.

Twenty years ago seven rich, privileged students became friends at their exclusive private school, Potter’s Field. Now they have started dying in the most violent way imaginable.

Detective Max Wolfe has recently arrived in the Homicide division of London’s West End Central, 27 Savile Row.

Soon he is following the bloody trail from the backstreets and bright lights of the city, to the darkest corners of the internet and all the way to the corridors of power.

As the bodies pile up, Max finds the killer’s reach getting closer to everything – and everyone – he loves.

Soon he is fighting not only for justice, but for his own life …

I listened to this as an audiobook and the word that comes to mind most of all is: restrained. Or perhaps, it’s just very British. Narrator Colin Mace made me feel like I was watching or listening to an episode of Prime Suspect or Wire in the Blood. I do wonder, as I have before, if reading this story would make me think it was as restrained as it was listening to it.

But first the story: Max Wolfe is a detective who joins a task force determined to find the killer of several prominent (read rich) men in London. They’re brutally and surgically killed, and to boot, the killer is using social media and inciting the public against the cops. Slowly but surely, Max and the task force begin to peel away the layers surrounding these men, right up to their time in a boarding school. At that point in time, Max realises these men are being targeted for a reason – for revenge. But for what?

The story at its core is perhaps a straightforward one, but it is the atmosphere, the characterization that will keep you reading. First, Max is a single dad, juggling the demands of a five-year-old daughter and their dog Stan. Stan was a bribe for Scout, to soften the blow of her mother walking out on them. Before he is a cop, Max is a devoted father and the author allows that relationship, with its ups and downs, a prominent part of the narrative, of who Max is. It’s Scout, Max and Stan against the world, and it’s pretty clear that Max will never let anything, including his job, take him away from Scout. Parsons manage to walk the fine line of Max’s family life and job, never letting one be more important than the other and weigh down the narrative as a result (which I sometimes think happens too often. It’s as if some assume characters with broken family lives are better good guys?)

Now, here’s where the restraint comes in, I think. The case itself is gruesome – someone is delighting in killing these men, and Parsons doesn’t shy away from detail in the crime scenes, but they’re delivered without embellishment, as are the cops’ reactions as they work through these scenes. The prologue is a wonderful example of this, even if it is the case, the murder, that is propelling the killings in the current day. It’s ever more terrifying when an author has achieved tension and terror without needing to resort to OTT writing.

Max, too, benefits from this restraint – whether he’s fighting for his life or observing his daughter and realising how much he loves her. Every word that should be on the page has a purpose and they’re deftly wielded to tighten the knot of tension inside you as the case progresses, and Max finds out exactly what went on years ago in a boarding school with this men who are now dying.

The story is not without a wicked twist or two, and those as well are more shattering for the way they’re casually revealed and hit you out of the blue. I felt wrung out after finishing this book, stopping on my walk and going: what when the last line was uttered.

It’s good. I can’t wait to see what the second book Slaughter Man – it was that book’s release that got me searching out the first in this series.

Have you read this series? What do you think of Max Wolfe?

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