Sunday, March 27, 2016


FADE TO BLACK by Steve Mullins (Saraband, 2016)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

The mysterious return of a ‘deceased’ film icon forces media man Root Wilson, the director’s obituarist, to hit London's streets in search of the truth. But powerful forces are determined to stop Root, and he soon finds that he’s a murder suspect himself … and even worse, maybe the next victim.

Longtime journalist Steve Mullins' first novel reads like an ultra-cool love letter to London, magnifying the stylish and cinematic aspects of the capital city as it flows along on honeyed prose. It's a tale that sparkles with atmosphere and originality, while at the same time having a rather old-fashioned noir sensibility.

Root Wilson is his own man, a bit of a maverick who hosts an eclectic radio show where he curates things he loves and thinks his listeners will too, ranging from music to film references, food, art, and little-known London history. His world is tipped when he suspects a dead film director whose work he very much admired - to the point of writing a glowing obituary and referencing regularly - may actually still be alive, having pulled the wool over everyone's eyes, for whatever reason.

The situation ascends from puzzling to dangerous when Root is confronted by sinister figures; our hero seems to have stumbled into his own noir film, complete with henchman, femme fatales, and mysterious forces lurking in the shadows. Just what the heck is really going on?

This is not your typical British crime novel. Mullins has created something that, like several of his characters, is a little eccentric. Full of culture and plenty of film references, it's a very visual tale; as readers we glide along in Root's world, at times feeling like we're in a classic black and white film. Root is an engaging protagonist, even if at times he seems to be blundering through life in a haphazard way. Mullins brings various areas of London vividly to life, but the setting and story both centre strongly on the Thames River; its waters bisecting the capital like a glittering snake.

There's a good sense of pacing to Fade to Black as the mystery unravels, and Mullins surrounds Root with plenty of fascinating and well-developed characters. Overall the book is an impressive first effort, a jazz lick of a debut - fast-moving, offbeat, and shot through with a sense of cool.

Craig Sisterson is a journalist from New Zealand who writes for magazines and newspapers in several countries. He has interviewed more than 140 crime writers, discussed crime fiction at literary festivals and on radio, and is the Judging Convenor of the Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Novel. Follow him on Twitter: @craigsisterson 

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