Stuck on the graveyard shift after using and stealing drugs—from the evidence room—Detective Constable Aidan Waits is squeezed from all sides after finding a murdered man in an abandoned Manchester hotel.
The hotel, an enormous, mazelike Victorian creation called the Palace whose clock tower tells the wrong time, is in the process of being sold by the bitterly separated couple that owns it. In the interim, a security guard has been running prostitutes in one of its rooms. Rendered unidentifiable through the removal of his fingerprints and the filing of his teeth, the murder victim is tagged Smiley Face after his rictus grin. Drawing the displeasure of top brass for investigating a hateful right-wing TV commentator for sexually harassing a teenage girl and blackmail, Waits finds himself pushing against the city's power structure. Now off drugs and booze, he is vulnerable to memories of a disturbing childhood from which he has long tried to hide. In this, the second installment in a series that began with the drug-hazed, sometimes-hallucinogenic Sirens (2018), Knox operates in a more classic noir manner. Waits exchanges nasty barbs with the burned-out superior officer with whom he has partnered (he "looked like he'd survived an embalming"). But the deeper into the murder the book gets, the more knotty and nightmarish it becomes. No one makes nightclubs more zombielike than Knox. Manchester, as menacing as it is dark and subjected to stifling summer heat, will have its own say in how and when the past comes crashing down on Waits.
With his second novel in what looks to be an enduring series, Knox takes his place alongside such writers as Val McDermid, David Peace, and Sophie Hannah in making Manchester a destination for crime fiction.