The Smiling Man

The Smiling ManThe Smiling Man by Joseph Knox
Series: Aidan Waits Thriller #2
Publisher: Doubleday
Released: March 8, 2018
Pages: 400
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‘I usually experienced the presence of a dead body as an absence, but in this case, it felt like a black hole opening up in front of me’
Disconnected from his history and careless of his future, Detective Aidan Waits has resigned himself to the night shift. An endless cycle of meaningless emergency calls and lonely dead ends. Until he and his partner, Detective Inspector Peter ‘Sutty’ Sutcliffe, are summoned to The Palace, a vast disused hotel in the centre of a restless, simmering city. There they find the body of a man. He is dead. And he is smiling.
The tags have been removed from the man’s clothes. His teeth filed down and replaced. Even his fingertips are not his own. Only a patch sewn into the inside of his trousers gives any indication as to who he was, and to the desperate last act of his life…
But even as Waits puts together the pieces of this stranger’s life, someone is sifting through the shards of his own.
When the mysterious fires, anonymous phone calls and outright threats escalate, he realises that a ghost from his own past haunts his every move.
And to discover the smiling man’s identity, he must finally confront his own.

The Smiling Man gave me exactly what I expected from it: some well done, gritty, dark, British, crime – you know, as a feel-good change from what’s going on in UK politics at the moment. From the start the story seems like it is much more about the main character, Aiden, than it is about the mysteries he is investigating, and while the mysteries all come together nicely by the end – this felt to me more like a story about the detective, rather than the crimes the detective was trying to solve. I’m perfectly fine with that.

Aidan Waits is interesting enough that the story holds up, despite being centred on him. My objection would be that he seems to have been dragged a bit too far down, a bit too quickly. There seems to be quite a narrow gap between the (relative) extremes in how he is perceived by people around him, and at times the perception people have of him, while useful to drive the story forward, doesn’t seem entirely plausible. It didn’t get annoying, it just didn’t feel quite real. The character of Aiden is also heavily developed during this book, in a way which makes his situation, his attitude, and his reactions more satisfying than they otherwise would have been.

The mystery in the book is good, and a little more down to earth than it was in the first one. It didn’t grip me though, and while I appreciate that it was clever, I never felt any impatience, or true curiosity, about what was coming next. However, what the book does have in spades in atmosphere. The whole story maintains a great noir-like mood in which it didn’t really feel too important what was going to happen next. Revelling in what was already happening was enough. And I really enjoyed the ride.

This is not the kind of book that would lead me to heartily recommend the Aiden Waits series to others, but I’m excited for what might come next. This character in this setting really has legs, and it wouldn’t surprise me if some extraordinary books come out of this series going forward.

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