The Two O’Clock Boy by Mark Hill – 3/3.5*s

Two O'Clock Boy

TWO CHILDHOOD FRIENDS… ONE BECAME A DETECTIVE… ONE BECAME A KILLER…

Thirty years ago, the Longacre Children’s Home stood on a London street where once-grand Victorian homes lay derelict. There its children lived in terror of Gordon Tallis, the home’s manager.

Then Connor Laird arrived: a frighteningly intense boy who quickly became Tallis’ favourite criminal helper. Soon after, destruction befell the Longacre, and the facts of that night have lain buried . . . until today.

Now, a mysterious figure, the Two O’Clock Boy, is killing all who grew up there, one by one. DI Ray Drake will do whatever it take to stop the murders – but he will go even further to cover up the truth.

My Review

I’ve had this sitting on my pile for quite a while before I finally got around to reading it and I’m aware that my views and rating will be at odds with the majority of other reviews. I can almost certainly say that it is largely down to aspects of it that I found uncomfortable and coloured my overall view as they stuck firmly in my mind. If these elements were missing it would probably have been a 4* rating from me. For others these elements no doubt added to the realism and  character of the book, so you pays your money and you takes your choice. That’s the fun of books, we all read them differently.

I will say that as an opening line to draw you in, this has one of the best – “The boy loved his parents more than anything on this Earth. And so he had to kill them.”  –  if that doesn’t have you wanting to read more, I’m not sure what will.

The question is, what does this have to do with a series of grisly and (nasty) murders that follow involving families? That task is allocated to newly promoted DS Flick Crowley and her DI Ray Drake. Theirs was an interesting relationship which I did enjoy reading about. Crowley is keen to do well on her first investigation as DS but is worried that DI Drake is rueing his choice to promote her. What appears to have been a mutually supportive relationship appears to be unravelling and as a reader we are also left wondering exactly what is going on with DI Drake, because something is seriously amiss. As characters they both have their back stories which makes them rounded, realistic and in DI Drake’s case  a bit of an enigma. He certainly doesn’t fit the traditional mould.

As the book unfolds we have a dual timeline as the ongoing investigation links the murders to the inhabitants of a now defunct children’s home. The story of the Longacre Children’s home, which presents itself as more 1880’s in care, administration and outlook than it’s 1980’s reality, was a grim place. It was this aspect of the book I disliked, the Dickensian like home manager was despicable and I found his actions totally abhorrent and cruel. In some ways I guess it is testament to the author’s writing that it had the effect it did, but it left me feeling queasy and uncomfortable. I should stress there is no hint of sexual abuse for anyone worried about that. I’m just not good with child cruelty and mental abuse.

Initially I did get a bit bogged down with what seemed to be an ever-growing cast of characters that needed to be remembered until their place in the book became apparent. What cannot be denied though, is that once the book took off, the plot was gripping. As well as solving the link with the past, there is a growing realisation that in the present, no-one appears to be quite what they seem and everyone has secrets and surprises they would prefer to keep hidden. As a debut novel, it was certainly well written and plotted,  if just a bit too dark for me.

Aside from my personal reservations I’d certainly not be put off reading more as I loved the police procedural aspects and the characters of DS Crowley and DI Drake have certainly got great potential.

I received an  ecopy via NetGalley for the purposes of this review.

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