The Two O'Clock Boy - Mark Hill

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It might not have the most original of plots, but Mark Hill's The Two O'Clock Boy is a no-nonsense police thriller that grips the reader from the word go. Whether you find that it has anything interesting to offer in the backgrounds and personalities of its main police detective characters that offer any further potential for it being a continuing London police series, is however less certain.

In terms of the actual case that is covered in The Two O'Clock Boy, we aren't kept waiting long and don't need to spend too much time getting to know the characters. A family is brutally murdered in the North London district of Tottenham, not far from the offices of recently promoted DI Ray Drake and DS Flick Crowley. One of the family members however inadvertently missed the trap that had been set up for them and reveals that it could well be related to some research his father was doing for a book. Those investigations were around a series of mysterious deaths of staff and inmates at a children's institution, Longacre. It appears that someone, most likely a former child in care, has a grudge against the place and has been settling scores over the years.

The Two O'Clock Boy deals then not only on the investigation and escalating series of deaths, but it also looks back to the 1980s and to the abuse and the conditions suffered by young children in the institution. One additional complicating factor that Mark Hill throws in here is that there is a connection between those events at Longacre and one of the detectives investigating the case. Ray Drake wasn't himself institutionalised, but grew up nearby, was a frequent visitor to the place through family connections and he knows many of the personalities and the problems that went on there. He doesn't want his connection known, but it's going to be hard with DS Crowley getting suspicious and with the problems from being brought right back to his door.

Mark Hill doesn't waste a great deal of time establishing characters or the dynamic that lies between them, but rather gets straight into the rapidly developing case with flashbacks to 1984 where very bad things happened with the arrival of a new boy at the Longacre home for children. As you might expect though, details of the backgrounds and home lives of the detectives are gradually revealed, and they aren't the usual stock family situations. Drake's background is evidently directly relevant to this case, but beyond his immediate troubles with a daughter who is going off the rails since the recent death of her mother, there are other family connections that go some way to determining the character of the detective. DS Flick Crowley is very much the dedicated single loner type, but there are some family secrets there also to be expanded upon.

For a series of killings that have thus far remained off the radar of suspicion, things seem to escalate very quickly indeed by the time that The Two O'Clock Boy takes up the story, meaning that credibility is somewhat stretched and situations have a sense of being conveniently manufactured for the sake of impact. If it's impact you want though, then Mark Hill's first book has plenty of it, rattling along at breakneck speed to a thrilling, twisting and, frankly, ludicrously over-the-top and overly orchestrated conclusion with lots of villain grandstanding. It's clear that Mark Hill is attempting something different here with an anti-hero police detective, but based on this investigation it's difficult to imagine that many readers are going to be taken with the character or the concept, since there's little else that gives The Two O'Clock Boy any real character of its own. The writing and setting has a rather generic and anonymous feel to it, a sense that it could take place anywhere, with little feel for its London locations or characters. With the background revelations out of the way however, it will be interesting to see if there is anywhere else the author can take this.

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The Two O'Clock Boy by Mark Hill is published by Sphere on 26th April 2016, but is available now as an e-Book.

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