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The bf, familiar with my irregular craving for ‘brit cop drama’, was surprised to find an actual brit cop drama on TV last night that he hadn’t seen before.

‘Why haven’t we seen this?’
‘Ah, yes. This is CRACKER. It’s very dark. I mean, it’s excellent but … too dark.’
‘What, darker than WALLANDER?’
‘Oh, hell, yes.’
‘… Wow.’

So we didn’t watch CRACKER, because not enough years have passed to take THAT particular journey again. It did remind, me, though, that I’ve been meaning to update you on Neil Cross.

I came across Cross (er, that was awkward) on a panel at the Sydney Writers’ Festival back in May. Cross is a British author based in NZ. He also happens to be head writer for brit cop comedy-drama (yeah, I’m calling it) SPOOKS. Just in case you were wondering how I was about to link Cross back to my opening sentence.

Cross was on a panel with Lenny Bartulin, Australian author, talking about crime writing & the importance of the sense of place. To go off on a tangent for a second, their conclusion was that elaborate description — even in something as location-oriented as crime writing — isn’t needed.

‘A man and a dog walk into a bar,’ said Lenny. ‘The audience sees the bar, the man and the dog. You don’t need to describe it.’

Bartulin also said a phrase like ‘it reminded him of his father’ draws out connotations for the audience that may be different for each person, but will still end up informing their vision of the character in ways that suit the story. Neat, huh?

Anyhooo, I’m eventually getting around to Cross. Apparently he started life as a ‘literary’ writer who was told his stuff would never sell outside Britain, being — as it was — “TOO literary”.

Too literary. Man, I hate that damning with faint praise thing.

I figured Cross for a brother-at-arms & picked up one of his novels. I read CAPTURED right before I read Le Carre’s THE SPY WHO CAME IN FROM THE COLD. Just for something completely different.

Because CAPTURED is different. It features Kenny: a man who’s just been diagnosed with terminal cancer, the kind that kills within weeks. And so he’s taken stock. He’s determined how to spend the rest of his shortened life and he’s come up with an idea that starts off kinda tragic & becomes horrific. He looks up a woman he knew when he was a kid: Callie Barton. Trouble is, Callie disappeared years ago and though the reason or purpose behind her disappearance was never determined, Kenny decides to hunt down Callie’s husband, Jonathan. And I mean, really, hunt.

I may be doing the decision an injustice, I admit, because I never really was sure how he reached that conclusion. But he did, & so the next steps become darker and darker as Kenny’s hunt turns more dangerous. Which, I guess, is what happens when someone with nothing to lose falls in love with a violent idea based on some kind of inaccurate nostalgia. To give you the 25-words-or-less synopsis.

It’s a depressing, energetic book about some awful people and some victims who are only innocent to relative degrees, and it reads very much like a miniseries, complete with ‘hooks’ right before the ad breaks. (Okay, in this case the ad breaks are chapter endings, but it amounts to the same thing).

Like Le Carre’s book, much of Cross’ novel features two guys sitting opposite each other and the violence, when it happens, is messy and inaccurately aimed. Unlike Le Carre’s book, there’s more action than talking, more repulsive consequence than impolite conclusion. Cross has an impressive ability to wrench up the drama & take human need to its logical conclusions.

What I’ll remember most, however, is how damn DEPRESSING this book was. Selfishness and laziness and corruption get their just deserts, but so do other less-deserving traits.

Try to avoid liking anyone in the book. There are few happy endings.