As much as I enjoy crime based films, I've never enjoyed crime fiction as much. So picking up It's Only Death was a departure from the norm for me. But a great many people raved about Lee Thompson's previous work, A Beautiful Madness, so this one jumped out at me from the Netgalley page. And while it's safe to say, It's Only Death hasn't changed my view of crime fiction all on its own, I did find it to be an interesting snapshot of one criminal's return to his home town to face his personal demons.
Told from that criminal's first person POV, Thompson creates a complicated character who is genuinely hard to get behind, such is his lack of morality and sense of guilt at having murdered his father during a botched armed robbery many years before. James is very difficult to get a handle on. Why did he rob the bank in the first place? And why did he never bother to call the girl he supposedly loved or the sister he left behind to reassure them he was okay? These are just two examples of questions I kept asking myself. The simplest answer would seem to be because he's a sociopath, but there are moments when his empathy for others is clearly apparent, so that's too simple of an answer. I'd like to say Thompson makes James' motivations clear by the end of the book, but that is not the case. He also makes way too many assumptions and incorrect deductions, many of which propel the narrative forward.
So I found James to be frustrating. But what I liked was Thompson's writing style. His word-smithing sucked me in and pulled me right along, so I was only too happy to see what questionable move James was next going to make. Of course it all ends in bullets, blood and death, and (best of all) it does become genuinely uncertain who - if anyone - is going to walk away by the end of the book.
Overall, I liked It's Only Death and would recommend it to those who prefer a darker edge to their crime fiction. I'll be back to sample more of Thompson's back catalogue in future.
3.5 Pieces Packed for It's Only Death.
This review is based on an eARC from Darkfuse Publishing made available through Netgalley.