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by Neil White
Avon, June 2012
400 pages
6.99 GBP
ISBN: 1847561306

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

The Lancashire town of Oulton isn't the most cheerful of places. It hasn't quite made it to commuter-belt status and everything is more than a little seedy, like most of the main characters. It's home to down-at-heel solicitor, Charlie Barker, a man who spends his time drinking too much and representing small-time criminals in the local court. Then there's burnt-out policeman, Detective Inspector Sheldon Brown, a man who feels his career is going nowhere. John Abbott, the third of the main characters, is a man who seems to be getting in too deep with a group of anarchists holed up in an isolated farm. The story alternates mainly among their points of view, entwining the narratives of three very different people against a backdrop of the brutal murder and mutilation of bad-boy lottery winner, Billy Privett, a man who soon learnt that money might buy you a lot of things, but it doesn't buy you friends.

The unsolved murder of party-goer Alice Kenyon haunts both Barker and Brown. She was found dead in Billy Privett's swimming pool by Brown, but to his chagrin, it was never possible to bring Privett to court, even though Alice's father, Ted Kenyon, campaigned tirelessly against him until he was photographed in a car in a seemingly compromising position with a girl the same age as his dead daughter, losing the sympathy of the public and press as a result.

Barker's connection to the case is through his partner, Amelia Diaz, who represented Privett. A second killing throws suspicion onto Barker and he knows he has to find out the truth to get himself off the hook. Meanwhile, at the farm that has been taken over by the enigmatic Henry and his followers, John Abbott is getting in deeper with Henry and the others, hoping to be involved in the culmination of Henry's plans. The portrayal of any cult is a hard sell to readers and, in the early stages at least, Henry doesn't come over as the sort of person to inspire much devotion from anyone, but he is capable of some shrewd moves to keep people on side, and is certainly able to play to people's darker sides.

From a relatively slow burn at the start, largely taken up with establishing the main characters, the book inexorably gathers momentum through some unlikely but compelling partnerships, such as that of Brown and Ted Kenyon, united in their determination to find out what really happened to Alice, even though Barker has been side-lined by his boss and forced to take some time off before he falls apart. Once the pace picks up, the book starts to race towards an impressive climax, some of which I saw coming, but there were some twists that I certainly didn't anticipate.

BEYOND EVIL is a strong addition to the list of White's credits, and as a northern lass by birth and upbringing. and a retired solicitor by profession, I can certainly testify to the authenticity of backgrounds depicted here.

Linda Wilson is a writer, and retired solicitor, with an interest in archaeology and cave art, who now divides her time between England and France.

Reviewed by Linda Wilson, August 2012

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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