Happy paperback birthday to Mark Hill whose stonkingly brilliant thriller, Two O’Clock Boy is being let out in the wild today. I first read and reviewed this book last year, and the protagonist, Ray Drake, is one of my self confessed #BookLove crushes. So with a cracking new cover to drool over (not literally as that’s a waste of a good book) now seemed like a good time to revisit my review.
The Official Book Blurb
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.
The Two O’Clock Boy is a truly stunning offering from author Mark Hill. Moving between the present day investigations and the period in 1984 after Connor Laird first went to Longacre, Hill offers the reader a thrill ride full of twists, shocks and complete moral ambiguity. Are the characters simply victims of their past, driven to poor life choices by a difficult and abusive start, or is this merely an excuse to justify their crimes? What is it that creates a criminal; a killer? Nature or nurture?
Hill’s eponymous killer, the Two O’Clock Boy, is an emotionally complex character. As his past is slowly revealed to the reader, you are put in a strange position of feeling a little sympathy for him as much as you do for all of those he targets. What happens at the home is something which will make victims of them all, emotionally and, ultimately, physically. Whether as a result you can forgive his actions – well for me the jury is still out. Is he a killer? Undoubtedly. But the truth is far more complicated than that and it’s not that easy to simply condemn. In some way, Hill’s writing toyed with my emotions in such a way that I couldn’t truly hate him, no matter what, and yet could still fear the clinical manner in which he executed his plans.
Now when it comes to Detective Inspector Ray Drake, you have an almost impossible character. An anti-hero. He is driven by a love for his family, a need to keep them safe, which you have to respect, and yet his methods leave a lot to be desired. I can honestly say that I didn’t know how to feel about him. I liked his character at first, but then as the story went on I found myself wondering how far he was involved and what it was that the killer had over him. I didn’t trust him, and as the past was unveiled, scene by scene, he became that little bit more complicated. My feelings mirrored those of DS Crowley; confused by Drake’s change in character, his determination to avoid the obvious truth and to derail the investigation. He shocked me and made me go gah! in frustration. But I still liked him. A lot. I wanted to hate him but found myself rooting for him instead. Good boy gone bad or simply a father placed in an impossible situation? You’ll have to read to decide for yourself. But there was just something about him. That hidden dark side, the secrecy. That’s why he’s ended up on the #booklove list.
Flick Crowley is an astutely observed, well rounded, character. With her own demons to battle, a poor relationship with her estranged father and an over reliance upon her sister, she is a very likeable character. Tenacious and determined, she carries on with her investigations, in spite of Drake and l can see her being a character with so much to give. She is certainly no pushover and acts on instinct. You can’t help but like her and the pairing of her and Drake is full of so much mistrust and uncertainty, so beautifully sharp and conflict ridden, that is is a joy to read.
The writing is pacy, the tension gradually building to the final dramatic crescendo, as, chapter by chapter, more of the past and motivations are revealed. The twists in the story, the duplicity, the deception, are so well hidden that I didn’t see most of them coming until they were staring me in the face. I thought I knew … but I was so very wrong. I love it when that happens. The thrill of the chase, the developing sense of jeopardy and threat, all driven by a truly tight narrative, make this a literal page turner. And I do mean literal as this book kept me up until the wee small hours. There was no way I was going to even attempt sleep until I had finished. And then that ending … wow. What a reward. It was just … well, more gah and then a sense of foreboding and … Oh heck. I loved it.
The murders are grizzly, the perpetrator without remorse and our ‘hero’ divisive. But I was compelled to keep reading. I wanted to learn all of their secrets. To understand why the killer was so hell bent on such a vicious revenge. I want to know what the heck happens next for Drake and Crowley. What they have been though is definitely going to make for an interesting and complex dynamic in future books. I can hardly wait.
A brilliantly crafted, fabulously dark and thoroughly vengeful 5 stars from me.
Two O’Clock Boy is available to purchase from the following retailers in both paperback and e-book version. Go on. You know you want to.