Discovering a new author can be a great excitement and one with a backlist, more so. This year, my Christmas came early and my only disappointment is that I wish I’d picked up a book by Margaret Murphy before now.
The Dispossessed marks the start of the “Rickman” series, set in Liverpool, with Detective Inspector Jeff Rickman as the main character, perfectly complemented by Detective Sergeant Lee Foster and Detective Constable Naomi Hart.
Like Ian Rankin’s Fleshmarket Close (Fleshmarket Alley in the US), this novel takes us into the world of immigrants and asylum seekers; but here we get much closer to the grim reality of everyday life, the hardships now suffered and those constantly remembered from a previous life, the threats and exploitation that exist around every corner and behind every closed door. The plot itself brings us an insight more alive than any documentary media format could achieve. (Something that can also be said of Mark Billingham’s Lifeless, in respect of those living on the streets.)
The plot is also a page turner and the book itself, a tour de force, if you ask me. I’ve avoided doing a “Best” list in the run up to Christmas as there are already so many out there and they get tediously boring after a while; the same top five for crime fiction, more or less. But I will say this. The Dispossessed was my best read of 2005.
Now, for the “why” bit.
1 The Dispossessed has the best first chapter I’ve read in a long time, possibly ever. It’s a great hook and not what it seems and you get a wonderful insight into two of the main characters. So, loving them already, I began to turn the pages…
2 A body falls out of a wheelie bin when refuse is collected. Murphy gives just enough information and knows how to the drawn the line in two ways: the full gruesome impact is left to your own imagination and questions remain unanswered. (A skill replayed later, to much effect.) So I continued to turn the pages…
3 Personal lives are in the minds of those we meet, especially those involved in the investigation. But that’s life as we know it, yes? Rickman is no exception, where he is forced to encounter his long estranged brother. A very interesting side-plot which leads to more page turning…
4 The cast of characters is so well drawn that emotional investment runs deep. This leads to one scene towards the end of the book, which is both gut wrenching and heart breaking. It’s also the most powerful piece of writing I think I’ve ever read.
5 Who did it? Well, I think it’s very definite here, that the reader needs to read on to the bitter end to find out.
I loved the characters. I enjoyed following the plot. I appreciated the insight into life, both in Liverpool, in general, and as an asylum seeker. Finishing the book, more than ever, I felt empathy to asylum seekers. The more you know, the more you can understand. Murphy does us all a service here. She tells us how life really is and makes immigration far much more than a mere statistic batted about between political parties in the Commons.
We read and we see something we could not achieve through other media. We get involved and we start to understand; we get to want something better. This time not just for us, but also for those who legitimately seek refuge on our shores. We repel the criminals and welcome the victims. The problem that abounds and one which Murphy uses in her plot is this: who is really a victim and who is really a criminal? I have not felt so involved in a book in a long while. I have not felt new characters to be so real, so quickly, in a long time. I don’t think I‘ve ever felt so punched in the gut as I did with one scene in this book. That was one scene which marked both some terrific writing in situ, and also some very excellent writing in bringing the reader up to that point.
The Dispossessed is a remarkable read. It’s the best crime fiction novel I read in 2005, even though 2005 is not quite finished yet and the competition was tough, from a handful only, but what a good handful!
I haven’t been quite so impressed with a book since I returned to the UK in the summer of 1993 and read Minette Walters’s The Scold’s Bridle. That led me to a two book backlist and first edition hard back buying thereafter. The same will happen now, I tell you. I only hope that Jeff Rickman and his team are in for a long series. Personally, I think that, ultimately, this series could, indeed should, make it to our screens. But do read the books. The Dispossessed is a class act. Margaret Murphy’s writing is a class act. And, as I have already said, The Dispossessed is most definitely the best read I experienced in 2005.
To find out more about the series, other books and the author, go here.