NEEDLE SONG by Russell Day - a review
Spending the night with a beautiful woman would be a good alibi, if the body in the next room wasn't her husband.
Doc Slidesmith has a habit of knowing things he shouldn't. He knows the woman Chris Rudjer meets online is married. He knows the adult fun she's looking for is likely to be short lived. And when her husband is killed, he knows Chris Rudjer didn't do it.
The only trouble is the police disagree and no-one wants to waste time investigating an open and shut case.
No-one except Doc.
Using lies, blackmail and a loaded pack of Tarot cards, Doc sets about looking for the truth - but the more truth he finds, the less he thinks his friend is going to like it.
Chris Rudjer was hunched over the counter, scouring the appointments book and blocking the light. Doc was fishing.
"How's that posh bit you been knocking around with?"
There was a moment of stillness that centred around the Big Guy. You'd have needed a thin skin to call it a threat, but with someone Chris's size, it paid to listen carefully. Maybe an inch shy of seven foot and a solid twenty-three stone, he carried his own exclusion zone. You ignored it at your own risk.
"You mean Jan?"
"How's Jan?" Doc said.
Where Chris was all road-beaten leathers and tattoos, Jan was designer labels and charge cards. They made an odd couple.
There are many tropes in detective fiction - the character playing the role of detective being a Voodoo practicing, Miss Marple adoring, tattoo artist biker not being one. Such is Doc Slidesmith. And Doc has a crime to solve. His friend - Big Chris - is in a heap of trouble. A man is dead - the man being the husband of the femme fatale Chris has been ministering to. Chris can be placed at the scene, has previous, has a motive and is refusing to help the police with their enquiries. Doc - with the aid of tattoo apprentice, Yakky - the narrator of the book - are his only hope.
Like a modern day back alley Holmes and Watson, Doc and Yakky tease apart the final days of the murder victim, and the psyche of everyone that might have been involved. The plot unfolds beautifully, to the point even with thirty pages to go I had no idea where things were heading. The unveiling of the solution to the mystery, with a knowing nod and wink to Agatha Christie and Scooby Doo, is brilliantly written.
The strength of the prose - not a weak verb or extraneous word to be found - the strength of the characters, the plot, the dialogue, the all of it makes for an incredibly robust novel. One might even go so far as mistakenly thinking it a masculine novel. But you'd be wrong. Sure, the novel drips with engine oil and male bonding - but what makes Needle Song such a great read is the way Day opens up the vulnerability of each male protagonist in their relationship with the women in the lives. Needle Song is a novel of emotional depth as well as a brilliant whodunnit.
I had come to this novel having read Day's incredible zombie dystopian heist masterpiece - King of the Crows (https://fahrenheit-press.myshopify.com/collections/fahrenheit-press/products/king-of-the-crows-russell-day )
Check it out for a reading experience you won't soon forget.
Day is one hell of a writer, and Needle Song is one of the best written novels I have read in recent years.
Needle Song is available here from Fahernheit Press: