In my view, Chris Simms stands alongside Ian Rankin for gritty, realistic police procedurals.

In my view Chris Simms is an author who’s seriously underrated. He’s not high-profile and I rarely see his books reviewed in the newspapers, yet I’ve enjoyed all the ones of his DI Jon Spicer series that I’ve managed to find; and the first of his DC Iona Khan books. But the peculiar purchasing policies of libraries makes it hard to follow a series by an author who isn’t making headlines and Simms’s books aren’t always on the shelf, so I’ve sometimes listened to them on CD or read them in Large Print.

That’s rather a long intro but it explains why I leapt at the chance to read the e-book of Marked Men when I saw it on BorrowBox. It’s Book 2 in Simms’s series ‘Sean Blake Mysteries’. Blake is a character I hadn’t heard of before but he’s a DC in Manchester and that was enough to persuade me.

All Simms’s books that I’ve read have been set in Manchester and they’ve all been tough, gritty stories. Marked Men is no exception. The protagonist is Sean Blake, a young detective constable who is working with DS Magda Dragomir in the Serious Crime Unit.

There have been a couple of violent drownings. The first of a homeless man who was thrown into the canal, and then another of a man in a fishing lake. Both had been tied and weighed down before going into the water. It’s soon discovered that the victims were linked by being in the same gang at school, and that one of their number is now a well-known crime lord in the city.

As the lives of the boys who were in the gang are investigated the plot criss-crosses around and bumps into another murder case which is being investigated by another team. So there’s point-scoring and office politics in the background as well. Step by step the leads are untangled until the case is resolved, with one final unexpected twist at the end.

This story is what’s known as a ‘police procedural’ which makes it sound rather dull, and it’s actually anything but. Like Rankin’s Rebus stories you get a terrific sense of place. Manchester (a city I’ve only visited once) seems to pop off the page, warts and all. The police characters are believable and, as with any good crime novel, you find out what you need about the key people and even the peripheral characters are well-drawn.

To sum up
I would have to say that I still prefer Simms’s DI Jon Spicer novels by a small margin. Mostly, I think, because Spicer is a man in charge and the stories are a little darker. Blake is a junior, and however bright he might be he has to obey the rules and keep in line. Having said that I’m still delighted that I found another book by Chris Simms to read and I’d easily give this 4-Stars.

If you like Ian Rankin then do give Chris Simms a try. I think his books are right up there with the Rebus series – hard-hitting, interesting, clever stories that are well worth reading.
Review by: Cornish Eskimo