*I received an arc via the publisher in return for an honest review*
Dead Lands by Lloyd Otis
Dead Lands is a thrilling crime story set in the 1970s. When a woman’s body is found a special team is called in to investigate and prime suspect Alexander Troy is arrested for the murder. Desperate to remain a free man, Troy protests his innocence, but refuses to use his alibi. Trying to protect the woman he loves becomes a dangerous game – questions are asked and suspicions deepen. When the prime suspect completes a daring escape from custody, DI Breck and DS Kearns begin the hunt. Breck wants out of the force while Kearns has her own agenda and seeks revenge. Breck has his suspicions and she wants to keep it from him, and a right-wing march provides an explosive backdrop to their hunt for Troy. Dead Lands is the thrilling debut of award winning short story writer Lloyd Otis, and intelligently covers issues of race, discrimination and violence in a changing 70s landscape.
*Release date 12th October 2017.
Very few novels do I contact the publisher directly and ask to read a ‘coming soon’ title as soon as physically possible. This was one of those times! Dead Lands has an eye-catching cover and an intriguing synopsis. I was left dying to know more, little did I know I was in for one hell of a read………..
The location is London and the year is 1977, which makes for atmospheric reading but also an entirely different pace to a contemporary crime novel. Policing in the 1970s isn’t what it is today! A different era with its own approaches to racial profiling. Cransham, Lewisham and New Cross areas still left reeling from the ‘Rivers Of Blood’ speech of 1968 and its impact on London communities.
The backdrop of a right wing march in this novel offers a staggering reminder of that 1970s era.
The novel opens with violently brutal scene, it drew me in from the very first page! Police officers Detective Inspector Arlo Breck and Detective Sargent Patricia Kearns arrive on the scene. They are from the Sensitive Crimes Unit (SCU), basically dealing with cases that involve wealthy and influential people.
The victim Janet Maskell has suffered a violent death. The scene offers little in the form of evidence except a name written on a magazine and a credit card both stating Alexander Troy. Who is Alex Troy? How does he fit in with the victim? Janet was a dedicated career woman and held a prestigious job with an investment firm. She had a routine life and no time for friends outside of work.
Who would want Janet dead and why?
The papers cite of the upcoming ‘war on our streets’ fuelling the far-right march. The area’s deprivation and hopelessness adds to the racial tension and mistrust. With all this happening Detective Superintendent Anil Bashir wants to override his detectives and run Janet’s case his way. Leaving Breck disillusioned with police work altogether.
Breck is dealing with a distressed girlfriend, who appears to be suffering with mental health issues from the flashbacks of a recent attack. He also faces verbal abuse from fellow copper Riley. Kearns is divorced, lonely and has virtually no interaction with her only child. The role of a female police officer in the 1970s is fully explored. The police officer’s backgrounds adds to the complexity of this novel.
There are revelations, secrets and lies. They read brilliantly as a police duo.
The police finally trace Alex Troy and bring him in for questioning. He works at the same investment firm and was facing a disciplinary hearing that day, which Janet had run against him. Is this his motive? He is completely baffled with their accusations. He pleads his innocence but refuses to give an alibi.
There is confusion, when another Alex Troy is linked to the case.
Then Troy escapes……….
The case of the two Alex Troy’s is fascinating reading. Identify theft in the 1970s, easily done and impossible to unravel. With one a person of interest (POI) and the other, the prime suspect. The prime suspect is desperate and on the run!
Nosey neighbour Wynda Brodie, informs the police that Janet did have one frequent visitor. Her gardener and lover Benjamin Genta. Stating her dislike at the thought of ‘half-caste kids’ running up and down the street! It would appear Wynda, is uncomfortable with the colour of Benjamin’s skin.
But who is Benjamin Genta and how does he tie into the case?
The investigation continues, there are searches for the two Alex Troys, interviews with people connecting to the victim and searches of property. But they throw up more dead ends than leads. Breck decides to approach Benjamin and discover more about the victim Janet. Benjamin has a clean record and a serious distrust of the police. His brother was an innocent victim in a stabbing and he recites cases of police harassment and brutality from an officer named Riley. But he was in love with Janet and they held the same political beliefs with regards to the anti-fascist movement against the far-right march. Was Janet’s death politically motivated? How involved was she?
“We’re in the dead lands, a place where you’re judged solely by the word of others. No one ever gets out. They stay trapped forever” Benjamin Genta
*Still poignant 40 years later.
There are chapters written from ‘the messengers’ perspective that make for harrowing reading. But they add thrills, fear and mystery. Who is the messenger? With a fellow officer proving there is a fine line between police work and police corruption. With his potential involvement in the march. Then one of the Alex Troy’s dead body is discovered the case is blown wide-open. Breck and Kearns must solve this case and fast! Before more dead bodies pile up.
A multifaceted complex novel, with themes of violence, past secrets, lies, police corruption, betrayals, racial tension and civil unrest. 5* Genius
Q) As a duo DI Arlo Breck and DS Patricia Kearns, come alive on the page. They are an unlikely pair and I often thought to myself they are chalk and cheese. But when you dig a little deeper into their pasts, the reader discovers they are both just trying to survive their own personal secrets. Was this intentional, to have two police officers so different but yet so alike?
A)It was, because as we know, opposites attract but when you scratch beneath the surface, you’ll find that they are both desperate to make amends. It’s the common denominator that secretly binds them together as individuals. Having them be different characters allowed me to provide a few interesting moments between them.
Q) I was very surprised to discover that DS Kearns was a female, due to the era. What made you decide to cast the role of Kearns as a female?
A) I wanted to create a more equal playing field in the story. Career opportunities for women across many industries were sadly extremely limited during the 70s, which is one of the reasons why I put Kearns in a specialist unit. A place where the skillset of an individual surpasses gender. There, the fact she is a woman, wouldn’t be such an obstacle as in other areas. I also felt that Breck and Kearns would bounce off each other better if one was male and the other female.
Q) Breck faces a dominating and bullying relationship with fellow police officer Riley. Which made me utterly despise Riley. Was this also part of the writing process to give an honest portrayal of the police in the 1970s?
A) To some extent, yes. The 70s had a lot of controversies, so there are some things that I just couldn’t underplay when setting its core in London. The stories about people being wrongly arrested, being discriminated against on a regular basis back then, and corruption, have already been well documented. To not have a character like Riley around wouldn’t be true to the decade. Having said that, not all officers were bad and that’s where Breck comes in. He’s Riley’s opposite in a sense.
Q) With themes of corruption and coercion, sometimes it was difficult to take the individual characters at face value. This added to the mystery and suspense feel of the novel and I was desperately trying to figure it out, before I got to the end. Is this sort of layered writing difficult to write, do you have to remind yourself who’s who? Does the direction of a character every change during the writing process?
A) Yes, this sort of layered writing is difficult to write because if there are multiple layers to a story, it can’t be rushed. Those layers have to understood by the author inside out. Once the author has that understanding, then the ultimate direction of the characters won’t change, their responses to situations may fluctuate, but their true direction will remain intact and the author won’t get confused with who’s who.
Q) Writing a novel set in 1977, is very different to the novels that flood the market. what was the inspiration behind this era? What was the research process for understanding policing in 1977?
A) For my debut I wanted create a story that you could say was under represented in the crime fiction market. Readers don’t want all books to be the same and we authors are creative, so we can try new things. I think there needs to be individualism in writing that continues to offer readers as much choice as possible. In terms of research, I underwent a lot for the period. From sifting through newspapers of the time, to speaking to someone who was present at ‘the march’ which serves as the backdrop to the story, and I was able to get on-the-job insights from a retired police sergeant that served during the decade.
Q) Breck identifies with Benjamin in the novel, almost as if he can imagine life thorough his eyes. We the reader also then witness Benjamin appear to let down his guard around Breck. How do you plan how various characters will interact with each another?
A) Good question. I think the keyword here is backgrounds. The background of a character leads me to decide how best that particular character would interact with others, especially in one-to-one scenes.
Q) If I had to sum up your novel in 5 words, I would say it is edgy, tense, unique, intelligent and thought-provoking. What 5 words would you use?
A) Thank you, Abby, that’s very kind. I honestly don’t think I could choose any different, or better, words than those.
Q) Finally, the question I am dying to know the answer to, is this debut novel the start of a Breck & Kearns series? If so are you working on ideas/themes for the next novel?
A) Breck & Kearns deserve their moment. I spent a lot of time considering who they were and what they were supposed to represent. Dead Lands is their story, from the beginning to the end, alongside a piece of real history. Will they return? Never say never.
Lloyd was born in London and attained a BA (Hons) in Media and Communication. After gaining several years of valuable experience within the finance and digital sectors, he completed a course in journalism. Lloyd has interviewed a host of bestselling authors, such as Mark Billingham, Hugh Howey, Kerry Hudson, and Lawrence Block. Two of his short stories were selected for publication in the ‘Out of My Window’ anthology, and he currently works as an Editor.
Via Urbane: http://urbanepublications.com/book_author/lloyd-otis/