Start at the beginning, book one, Turnstone.
And rejoice that there are another 11 to read!
I’m not a fan of bigging up something by knocking down something else. That’s not what I’m doing when I say that Graham Hurley’s Faraday and Winter series is, for me, far and away the best British crime series.
Having been raised on Raymond Chandler and Dashell Hammett, only Sherlock Holmes was good enough for me this side of the Atlantic. (And don’t get clever by reminding me Chandler was British! Philip Marlowe certainly wasn’t, and nor were those mean streets).
But when my reading revved up to a book a week, maybe 20 years ago, there wasn’t enough truly excellent American crime to feed my habit. Elmore Leonard, James Ellroy, John Sandford, Robert Crais, John Connolly, Michael Connelly, Harlan Coben, Faye Kellerman and Lee Child could only be expected to write, at best, a book a year. I’d need a list of 52 such not to start suffering withdrawal symptoms.
I couldn’t get up to 52 even with the second division – Karin Slaughter, Tess Gerritsen or Dennis Lehane, whose Kenzie and Gennaro series was a frantically fun ride, but stopped suddenly after just five books. (I’ve just discovered, to my delight, that a sixth appeared in 2010. I had been completely unaware of Moonlight Mile, which is now queued up on my Kindle)
And then, some of them stopped their series, or deteriorated. Harlan Coben’s Myron Bolitar lost his edge. Faye Kellerman’s rich mix of crime and Jewish culture – featuring Peter Decker and Rina Lazarus – became, somehow, less. David Baldacci, after a really promising start, descended into melodrama. James Patterson, whose first three or four books were properly gripping, turned himself into a writing factory. Good luck to him, but writing to a formula (including two- or three-page chapters) was never going to give me the high I was looking for.
So, in between the cracks, I started to read Ian Rankin, Peter Robinson, Peter James and, latterly, James Oswald (whose Inspector McLean series I highly recommend). I’ve also enjoyed Robert Galbraith’s three Cormoran Strike books.
But, oh joy, when for some reason I picked up Angels Passing by Graham Hurley for a song in a funny little shop in the Charing Cross Road. The sense of place (Portsmouth) and the sense of character – not only Faraday and Winter, but every bit player in the plot – sent me back to a proper book shop where, joy upon joy, I found not only that Angels Passing was number three in a series, but that numbers one and two were there, on the shelf. As was number four, already published, waiting for me!
After that, like every other poor sucker, I had to wait for Graham Hurley to deliver the next episode. He never disappointed.
Joe Faraday alone would have been worth the price of entry. He’s complex and interesting, a widower with a son who is profoundly deaf. Hurley achieves the seemingly impossible: engaging the reader with Faraday’s interest in birdlife, mostly through the bond it creates between father and son. Faraday’s work – solving murders – is probably the least interesting thing about him.
But then Hurley throws another character, Paul Winter, into the mix. Again, lesser authors would have been happy with Winter as the lead character – as would readers. Winter is an amazingly attractive creation, getting results as a cop while skating on thin ice with the Portsmouth underworld. Is he a bent copper? Even after 10 books, and long after he’s left the force, that question remains, in itself, unanswered.
It’s a cliche to say it, but Portsmouth is also a character in these books. If you’ve never visited the city, and know nothing about it, halfway through the series you’ll feel you must have lived there at some point in your life. That’s an astonishing trick to pull off.
The other trick Hurley pulls off is to build a story arc across 12 books. There’s a (sort of) beginning, and there’s an end. Along the way, characters do surprising things that change their relationship to the reader. Sort of like what happens in real life. Some people you become disappointed in, disenchanted with. Others grow on you.
Why Graham Hurley isn’t better known is beyond me. As Paul Winter would say, “How’s that work, then?” But the fact that he isn’t means there’s a box of delights waiting out there for thousands of crime fiction fans. Dig in, now.