Hour of Darkness

hour of darknessPublished: 2014
Author: Quentin Jardine

Great story but overly distracting exposition


When I wrote my first Top Ten Crime Writers article one of the names I considered including was Quentin Jardine, creator of Edinburgh cop Bob Skinner. I adored the first few books in the Skinner series. Skinner’s Rules and Skinner’s Festival are among the best Scottish crime fiction I’ve ever read. I even (whisper it) think early Skinner is better than early Rebus. As the series continued however I started to tire a little. I didn’t think the later books fulfilled the promise of the first in the series so I’ve skipped quite a few in the timeline. I was excited though to receive a copy of the latest Skinner novel, Hour Of Darkness . It definitely seemed like the right time to revisit an old friend and see how the years had treated him.

Bob Skinner is now Chief Constable of Strathclyde Police and a key contender for appointment as Chief Constable of the soon to be established united Scottish Police force. His personal life also appears to be improving with a rekindled romance with his former wife in early, happy days. The discovery of a woman’s body in Edinburgh and the disappearance of a senior police officer both cause disruption to Skinner’s newly ordered life.

Hour of Darkness reminded me both what I loved about previous Skinner books but also why I had stopped reading them. There’s a lot of exposition about the relationships between various characters which creates ridiculously unrealistic dialogue. Characters who have apparently known each other for years feel the need to remind each other who they, and other characters, are married to and divorced from. “Don’t forget that X is Y’s ex-wife and married to Z who is your boss now”… alright that’s not a verbatim quote but it’s not too far off it either. The first 100 or so pages are littered with these exchanges and become a little tiring after a while. I did also find myself frustrated at the reason that so much exposition was necessary. It seemed that every cop in Edinburgh was in a relationship with (or divorced from) another cop. It seems a bit lazy to me just to create, split couples up and then get them back together.

On the other hand I really enjoyed elements of Hour of Darkness. Bob, despite his faults, is a likeable character and the kind of good guy you want running a police force. While there are, obviously, some moments where disbelief has to be suspended – for the most part the procedural elements seem realistic and the pace is perfectly enjoyable. The big reveal at the end of the book, although not completely unexpected, did (much to my surprise) leave me wishing that I had the next book in the series ready to find out what happened next.

I guess it’s a downfall of any long-running series – you don’t want new readers to feel alienated from the action. The flip side of that is that there’s a real risk of patronising the reader by holding their hand for too much of the narrative. I’ve not been convinced that I want to go back and catch up with the books I’ve missed however I would be quite happy to read the next one (and hope that the first 100 pages of that don’t repeat all the exposition I sat through with this one).

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