The Sinner by Martyn Waites: a story full of mystery, danger and nail-biting, claustrophobic tension - book review -

The Sinner
The Sinner

When ex-cop Tom Killgannon goes undercover at a bleak moorland prison, the last man he wants to meet is the ruthless gangster he helped to put behind bars.

When ex-cop Tom Killgannon goes undercover at a bleak moorland prison, the last man he wants to meet is the ruthless gangster he helped to put behind bars.

Unprotected and operating alone, Tom must fight to stay alive in a deadly cat-and-mouse game at one of the most isolated and lawless jails in the country.

Welcome back to the dark and menacing world of Tom Kilgannon, the likeable but dysfunctional hero created by bestselling author Martyn Waites, whose mastery of plotting, atmosphere and characterisation have made him the crime king of chills and thrills.

Born and raised in Newcastle, Waites has been nominated for every major British crime fiction award, has won the Grand Prix du Roman Noir, and is now on the second book of his Tom Killgannon series which opened last year with The Old Religion and garnered much critical acclaim.

Tom’s perilous new mission is set against an unflinching, eye-opening portrayal of life ‘inside,’ a grim place that Waites knows only too well after working as a Writer-in-Residence at two prisons, including a young offenders’ institution.

The result is a story full of mystery, danger and nail-biting, claustrophobic tension, and peopled by a cast of perfectly imagined, flawed characters, some haunted by memories and some guilty of sins in the past.

Tom, a former undercover police officer, is now in witness protection and living in the Cornish rural village of St Petroc, far away from his old work patch on the mean streets of Manchester.

After sinister events in the neighbourhood, he has become a surrogate father to Lila, a seventeen-year-old girl on the run from an abusive family and boyfriend, and his life has settled into an uneasy calm.

But, once a staunch rationalist, Tom has found that a superstitious side of him has been awakened by the ‘untamed’ wilds of Cornwall and when he is unexpectedly recalled to active service by his handler, DS Sheridan, he senses something dark and foreboding is ‘gathering like storm clouds.’

Tom’s mission is to befriend notorious child killer Noel Cunningham, known as the Choirmaster, and find out where he buried the bodies two of his young victims who have never been found.

The only problem is that Tom, who has suffered from claustrophobia since childhood, has to obtain the information from inside Blackmoor prison, a forbidding jail on an isolated stretch of moorland. Only DS Sheridan knows that Tom is there and who he really is, leaving the undercover policeman isolated and vulnerable.

But what Tom hadn’t reckoned on was coming face to face with Dean Foley, the vicious gang leader he arrested in Stretford four years ago and whose smile could turn on a breath from ‘a charismatic salesman’s’ to ‘fierce and snarling.’

Put away for life by Tom’s testimony, Foley is now ruling the roost in jail, ‘screws paid off, no one could get to him,’ and he recognises Tom. It sets in motion a deadly game with Foley determined to get his revenge.

Tom desperately tries to get in touch with his one contact, DS Sheridan, but he unaccountably cannot be reached and soon Tom is questioning the real reason he has been sent to Blackmoor prison…

Using his knowledge and his empathy for those whose lives he helped to turn around whilst working in prisons, Waites employs the motif of a haunted house and a hint of supernatural as Tom Killgannon fights his own fear of cramped spaces whilst struggling to outwit a child killer, and survive the machinations of the brutal Dean Foley.

As the story moves between Tom’s nightmare in Blackmoor Prison and the lives of those he cares for back home in St Petroc, the suspense mounts, and the mystery of Sheridan’s mysterious silence and the truth behind Tom’s mission are slowly and chillingly revealed.

The tragedy of broken, blighted – and sometimes bigoted – lives lies at the heart of this compelling series and Waites, with his finely tuned social conscience, always writes with compassion and understanding whilst delivering hard-hitting, edge-of the-seat thrillers.

Gripping, gritty and addictive…

(Zaffre, paperback, £8.99)