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  • Writer's pictureIan Ayris

BLACK MOSS by David Nolan - a review

The Blurb

In April 1990, as rioters took over Strangeways prison in Manchester, someone killed a little boy at Black Moss.

And no-one cared.

No-one except Danny Johnston, an inexperienced radio reporter trying to make a name for himself. More than a quarter of a century later, Danny returns to his home city to revisit the murder that's always haunted him.

If Danny can find out what really happened to the boy, maybe he can cure the emptiness he's felt inside since he too was a child.

But finding out the truth might just be the worst idea Danny Johnston has ever had.

The Opening

'The location instructions that Danny Johnston had been given by the news desk were odd, even by the standards he'd come to expect over the last six months: Take the A62 out of Oldham. Pass through Diggle. Stop at Brun Clough Reservoir car park. Pennine Way sign on your right. Walk PW path until you reach another reservoir (Redbrook). Next one is Black Moss Reservoir, with Little Black Moss next to it. Look for a beach and police activity.'

The Review

And what Danny finds at Black Moss is truly horrific.

Throughout the majority of the novel, Black Moss is structured along two alternate timelines - 1990 - when the crime at Black Moss is discovered - and 2016 when Danny returns to Manchester to discover what really happened all those years ago at Black Moss.

This chapter by chapter switching of timelines works brilliantly. With the passing of a twenty-five year gap in Danny's life, in one timeline we get the ambitious, young, tenacious Danny, albeit with a burgeoning alcohol problem - and in the next a more jaded, older Danny, a Danny beaten by life but no less tenacious. But, crucially, a Danny with nothing left to lose.

Danny never forgot what he saw on Black Moss that day, and Nolan perfectly reflects this in both timelines. The drive Danny shows as a young man and an older man to find the truth makes for a truly compelling, and very emotional, read.

The storyline is perfectly placed amidst the bleakness of the Manchester of 1990 and the dark, forbidding moors that Nolan describes so well. In a sense, many of the characters too are bleak. Their lives - whether it be the kids in the care home or the prisoners atop the roof at Strangeways, are bleak, their futures holding no hope. Even Danny - a hugely likeable character in the 1990 timeline but one whose life has become as bleak as anyones come 2016.

The dialogue in the novel is outstanding, beautifully clipped and laced with a deliciously dark sense of humour, its darkness fitting so well with the general mood of the novel.

And all through the novel, the riot/protest at Strangeways prison over conditions in the jail. I remember watching this on the news at the time - the prisoners on the roof of the prison shouting and holding banners. In the novel, the Strangeways riot/protest is indicative of the fight to be heard, to be listened to.

Indeed, this novel is almost entirely populated by the unheard. The notion of giving voice to those that cannot speak at its very heart.

It is this depth that makes Black Moss one of the best novels I have ever read. Not just in the crime fiction genre. Just one of the best novels I have EVER read.

For an insight into the writing of the novel from author David Nolan, click on this fantastic article:

Black Moss is available direct from Fahrenheit Press in paperback and ebook here

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