Book review: The Murder Bag by Tony Parsons

Wednesday, May 7, 2014 Permalink

I read somewhere that journalist and author Tony Parsons generally describes his novels as ‘men lit’ complementing the far-bigger genre of ‘chick-lit’ – which perfectly describes his most widely known novel, Man and Boy. (The former that is, not the latter!) 😉

As a result his foray into crime fiction could come as a bit of a surprise to many of his usual fans. However… while not perfect, Parsons does a good job in the genre which is a favourite of mine.

The Murder Bag introduces Detective Max Wolfe, a sole parent of delightful five year old Scout and newly appointed to the Savile Row Homicide Squad.

Wolfe gets no time to settle into his new gig as he’s called to the murder of an investment banker who’s been almost decapitated. A wife-beating womaniser, suspects aren’t in short supply. However when the body of a homeless man is found with an identical MO Max and his colleagues are forced to refocus their investigation.

When it’s discovered that both men went to the same elite private school twenty years earlier the police’s attention is drawn to a group of now-grown boys who seem to have something to hide and who may now be in danger.

cover44745-mediumMax’s direct boss (and new mentor) Chief Inspector Mallory is an impressive character in Parson’s novel. Interestingly it’s he (rather than Max) who actually provides the brains and weighty presence during the police investigation.

But in all fairness to Homicide newcomer Max, his head isn’t completely in the game; as Scout’s still dealing with the loss of her mother and Max is struggling to offer her the comfort and security she needs.

I have to admit there was something a little odd about the editing of the novel. I found myself constantly turning back to see if I’d missed something. Whether it was disjointed; or insufficient importance was given to some aspects; or whether I was skimming too much… I’m not sure.

Parson’s experience and expertise in writing ‘people’ was evident. Indeed I was just engaged in Max’s home life as I was with the case – which I really didn’t mind. The balance between the professional and personal is often a weakness in crime fiction with dull or stereoptypic characters, but I injoyed the insight into Max’s life. In fact, Scout was as central to this novel as Max and she was so well written I shed a tear or two on her behalf:

“Why are you crying, Scout?”

“I don’t know. I don’t know.”

We both knew but neither of us had the words, neither of us knew where to begin. There was a hole in my daughter’s life and no matter how much I loved her, no matter how hard I tried, I would never be able to fill it. The thought clawed at my heart and made me feel like weeping too.

I may be off the mark but I felt that Parson’s lack of experience in the (crime fiction) genre was evident. There was little (minimal) engagement with other police officers. Max didn’t ‘really’ have a partner and mostly did what he pleased. His days were also oddly spaced. He often arrived at work, had one appointment and then be home again, so the pacing was sometimes a little ‘out’. I found his workdays distinctly strange and wondered if I’m accustomed to overly-laborious accounts of detectives’ days!

I have to admit I didn’t get the point of the attention given to the Black Museum, references to Jack the Ripper and the book’s namesake, the murder bag. Other than identifying the specific murder weapon it was all a bit irrelevant and, well… too unwieldy  for something so (seemingly) irrelevant.

However… despite these little whinges I really enjoyed Parson’s first venture into crime fiction.

While some of the procedural stuff was a tad off, I really loved the personality and humanity he brought to his characters. We really came to care for Max and Scout and I look forward to meeting them again.

The Murder Bag is due for release via Random House Group on 8 May 2014.

NB. I was provided with advance copy of this book by the publisher for review purposes.

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