A terrific debut novel that certainly qualifies as ‘unputdownable’.
We think Trevor Wood must be the poster boy for the University of East Anglia’s MA course in ‘Creative Writing – Crime Fiction’. Although he is a playwright, he credits the course with starting his career as a novelist and if this (his debut novel) is anything to go by we hope it will be a long and successful one.
The Man on the Street is so well told that the story grips you immediately. Jimmy, a homeless navy veteran has returned to Newcastle so he can feel near to his family. He still suffers from PTSD years after serving in the Falklands War and doesn’t believe he deserves a regular life. One night, while sleeping rough, he is woken up by an argument between two men. He stays hidden to keep out of trouble but, after they’ve moved away, hears a splash and sees one of the men pick up the bag the other had been carrying, and walk away.
A few weeks later Jimmy reads in the newspaper about a missing man, and his daughter’s appeal for help. The time and date of the man’s disappearance seems to fit with the argument he’d witnessed, so he gets in touch with the girl. She encourages him to give a statement to the police and tell them what he saw. But they don’t take Jimmy seriously and it’s clear they aren’t interested in investigating. The man’s daughter – Carrie – won’t give up her search and persuades Jimmy to help.
The two of them begin to follow up on the clues they have. At one point, things look quite clear-cut but there are wheels within wheels, and for every lead Carrie and Jimmy think they have there’s another waiting to take them off in a different direction. It’s clever and compelling; and there’s a surprising twist at the end.
Why we loved it
All of us loved this book and the lowest score anyone gave it was 4.5 Stars. We discussed it at length to try and work out what made it so special. It is partly, we think, because the characters and locations leap off the page. All of us cared about Jimmy, his homeless friends, Gadge and Deano, and about Carrie too. The other characters in the book are also well written – believable and human. And from the start we had enormous sympathy for Jimmy, which just grew as bits of his back story were slowly revealed.
Newcastle is beautifully drawn as a thriving and busy city with levels that people don’t always see – or choose to see. Trevor Wood doesn’t particularly go out of his way to offset one against the other and although the city is a force in the story it’s not overwhelming. In some crime stories cities almost becomes characters in their own right. (We’re thinking, for example, of Ian Rankin’s books, which have such a strong focus on the dark underbelly of Edinburgh and organised crime.) But in this, you seem to be reading about the ordinary Newcastle – normal people carrying on their normal lives as best they can. It feels honest.
We’re not alone
Earlier this year this novel was shortlisted for the 2020 CWA John Creasey (New Blood) Dagger award, and long-listed for the Guardian’s ‘Not the Booker’ Prize. So we’re not alone in praising Trevor Wood. And there’s another book featuring Jimmy Mullen, called One Way Street, that has just been published as an e-book and will appear as a hardback in March 2021.
Eight of us read and really enjoyed The Man on the Street. We were probably evenly split between awarding 4+ and 5 Stars so that must count as a recommendation. It’s definitely a book to look for.