Book review: Bright Spark – Crime fiction from an ex-Lincoln policeman

Having not read much crime fiction before, I was unsure of what to expect from Bright Spark by Lincoln author Gavin Smith. I was pleasantly surprised by the very picaresque start to the novel.

I expected it to be action-packed and harsh, gritty descriptions of not so pleasant things. As the novel moves from the protagonist’s childhood of the 1970s to the present day mean streets of Lincoln this does begin to happen.

Ex Lincoln policeman Gavin Smith has combined his experience of being on the force with his knowledge of the streets of Lincoln to write a crime novel that will have readers wondering what really happens behind their neighbour’s closed door.

Gavin Smith released Bright Spark, set in Lincoln, in 2012.

Gavin Smith released Bright Spark, set in Lincoln, in 2012.

The action is set in modern day Lincoln with an arson attack resulting in the death of a mother and her two children. The prime suspect, the father Dale Murphy, is missing.

Has he run guiltily from the crime scene or is there something more sinister in his disappearance? That is the question the reader tries to uncover throughout the novel.

The main protagonist of the novel is Detective Inspector Rob Harkness. He views his recent promotion to be validation of this unique way solving cases. He is a heavy drinker and womaniser and often seems to bunk off work to ‘think’ about cases while napping on a sofa in the basement of the police station.

Screen Shot 2015-05-21 at 12.27.29Harkness’ methods seem to come from an era when the police were less accountable for their actions and did what it took to get the case solved. Despite his faults it becomes apparent that Harkness really does care about solving the case and seeing that justice is done to the right person – Think a less violent or respected Gene Hunt from Life on Mars.

Interspersed between Harkness’ narration of the case are chapters narrated by those linked to the arson attack. These include Firth, an ex-con who had a grudge with Dale Murphy, Sharon, the lawyer who is defending him, and Sharon’s mother, Marjorie, who coincidentally lived next door to the Murphys.

There are also sections where we are given viewpoints from other minor characters linked to the story. Although these chapters provide some interesting background information on the main players in the case, there are so many of them that it can leave the reader confused as to where they are in the main storyline. They also detract from the action of the story, which in some parts is few and far between.

The action of the story does seem to slow down towards the middle of the novel when it becomes more concentrated on the back stories of the characters.

For me this part did seem a bit slow. But by then I was hooked into finding out who really did start the fire. Once you make it past this middle section you are rewarded with an action-packed ending. There are a couple of good twists did not leave me disappointed.

Although set in Lincoln, this does not become a very big feature of the novel and the story could be set in any small, northern city. Most of the action seems to take place in the residential part of Burton Road and a fictional pub uphill somewhere.

Overall I enjoyed this novel. Although, at 456 pages long, it could have done with a reduction in the number of characters and their lives introduced to the reader and was a bit thin on action in some parts.

But at 99p it is great value for money and a nice easy read for the approaching holiday season. It is a good first crime for anyone more used to reading lighted fiction than gritty crime as the novel switches from blunt, factual descriptions to characters musings on their lives and relationships.

It is currently only available in Kindle format and would recommend it for over 18s only, as it does have a couple of gruesome descriptions of murder and autopsies.