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Dead or Alive by Ken McCoy

Two children have been abducted on their way home from school. After several weeks, they are still missing and no one knows whether they are alive or dead. The police are certain that ruthless local gangster Vince Formosa is behind the kidnapping, but without proof their hands are tied.

Forced to resign following an accidental death in police custody, former Detective Inspector Sep Black knows he s been set up. But how can he prove it and stay alive in the process? Convinced that Formosa has a mole within the police, Black sets out to expose the traitor, clear his name and wreak revenge on the man who brought him down. In order to do so, he must go undercover and find the missing children. But even the best-laid plans can sometimes go awry . . .

Dead or Alive is the first book featuring the character Detective Inspector Septimus ‘Sep’ Black. When he is first introduced a suspect has died while in custody, and the finger of blame is pointing firmly at Sep. Needless to say, appearances aren’t always what they seem, and there is far more going on than first appears. The good inspector could probably be best described as old school. He is well aware of the rules surrounding his job but isn’t averse to skirting very close to the edge of breaking them. If it will get the job done and bring a criminal to justice, he’ll do what it takes.

Of course all this professional ability comes at a cost. Sep’s personal life is a complete and utter car crash. He has separated from his wife, and she is more than happy to get involved in a scheme to discredit Sep with his colleagues. This family conflict adds nice depth to the main narrative, and helps to round out Sep as a character. He isn’t perfect, he has made mistakes, he’s human.

I warmed to the inspector immediately. He has an innate code of honour and a tenacity that feels palpable. Even when he finds himself out of a job, he refuses to give up. Just because he is no longer a member of the Police Force doesn’t mean he can’t still be a detective. If I found myself a victim of crime this is exactly that sort of person I’d want to help me out.

Vincent Formosa is a suitably formidable adversary. He manages to always be one step ahead of the authorities and uses any means necessary to stay on top. A violent sociopath like Vincent is the ideal nemesis for Black. Cruel, with an inbred sense of cunning, he can’t be brought to justice by traditional means. The Police are at a loss; they don’t even know where Vincent Formosa lives. It is up to the ex-detective inspector to play this villain at his own game. The big question is which of these two men is clever enough to come out on top?

It is nice to see a modern crime novel that is set firmly outside of London. The capital is mentioned a couple of times, but the vast majority of the action takes place in Leeds. The plot proves conclusively that any urban area is going to have inherent problems with organised crime.

Ken McCoy does a good job of introducing us to the decidedly seedy world of Sep Black. I’ll certainly look forward to the next novel featuring this character. Dead or Alive has a gritty, distinctly adult theme that is bound to satisfy regular readers of the crime genre. I can only hope that there will be more to follow.

Dead or Alive is published by Severn House and is available in paperback from 1st October.

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