Tuesday, May 16, 2023

"An undeniably fresh and authentic sleuth" - KILLING JERICHO review

KILLING JERICHO by William Hussey (Zaffre, 2023)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

Murder this twisted demands a new kind of detective. Fresh out of prison, former Detective Constable Scott Jericho is a desperate man. Disgraced and penniless after his assault on a violent suspect, he is forced to seek refuge with the fairground family he once rejected. Now, troubled by his failure, Jericho’s brilliant mind stagnates.

That is until a series of bizarre murders reawaken his interest. Men and women with no obvious link to each other are being ritualistically slaughtered. Slaughtered in ways that recall an old legend of the Jericho Travelling Fair. Now, in a race against time, he must unpick the threads of a baffling mystery. But as his investigation unfolds and the corpses pile up, a shocking truth awaits him. A revelation that will test not only Jericho’s intellect but challenge the very core of his morality...

It can be difficult among the ocean of crime fiction that's out there to enjoy to conjure a sleuth who's undeniably fresh, while still feeling authentic as well (rather than try-hard or forced by the author's hand). A main character that seems very different to what's gone before but also real and organic to the particular story and setting, not just shoved in by the author in a 'look at this, look how unique my character is' way, like they've cobbled together a jigsaw puzzle of lesser-used character traits.

So it's really fabulous to discover award-winning kids’ and YA author William Hussey, whose oeuvre swarms across horror, crime, and romcoms, has managed this hard task with real flair and aplomb in his first adult thriller, Killing Jericho. Like Hussey himself, Scott Jericho is a gay man who grew up in the travelling fairground community. Unlike Hussey, Jericho is a former cop recently out of prison, having lost his job and freedom for beating a violent arsonist during an interrogation. He's also balanced earlier stints of being a 'heavy' for bad men with university studies among dreaming spires. 

And now he's hiding away, retreated into himself among the cocoon of his fairground family he once rejected. Alcohol, pill popping, casual sex; anything to numb his failures and escapes his ghosts. Burned children. Yet somewhat like Patrick Jane in television's The Mentalist, growing up in the showgrounds had once helped hone Jericho's rare observational skills and ability to read human nature to an uncanny degree. Not that he's using that insight lately; instead his life is withering on its self-poisoned vine. 

It's only when Jericho is lured by a suspicious punter then an unexpected offer to privately investigate a bizarre series of murders linked to fairground folklore that he begins to come alive again. Does it take darkness and death for him to feel his best? And will his hunt bring death nearer to those he's loved?

Hussey casts a superb tale that plays with dark and light, while taking readers behind the frivolity of dodgems, candy floss, and Ferris Wheels to glimpse the backbreaking slog and prejudices casual and blatant faced by the travellers who bring fun and magic to fairgrounds and communities, before being shunted on. Killing Jericho is a gritty, tense thriller that’s vividly told and full of surprises, with some remarkable characters, including a lead who keeps readers (and most around him) off-kilter. 

This may be Hussey's first adult thriller, but I certainly hope for several return visits. 

Craig Sisterson is a lawyer turned writer, editor, podcast host, and event chair. He's the founder of the Ngaio Marsh Awards, author of Macavity and HRF Keating Award-shortlisted non-fiction work SOUTHERN CROSS CRIME, series editor of the DARK DEEDS DOWN UNDER anthology, and writes about books for magazines and newspapers in several countries.

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