The Dying Squad by Adam Simcox

July 15, 2021


When Detective Inspector Joe Lazarus storms a Lincolnshire farmhouse, he expects to bring down a notorious drug gang; instead, he discovers his own body and a spirit guide called Daisy-May.

She’s there to enlist him to The Dying Squad, a spectral police force who solve crimes their flesh and blood counterparts cannot.

Lazarus reluctantly accepts and returns to the Lincolnshire Badlands, where he faces dangers from both the living and the dead in his quest to discover the identity of his killer – before they kill again.

Two reviews in a handful of days? Yes, when you’re on a roll you’ve just got to go with it. Our second book of the week features more murder, but this time things have a distinctly supernatural air rather than science fiction vibe. The Dying Squad by Adam Simcox follows a dead cop given the opportunity to discover the truth of his own demise.

The big problem with being dead though is that your memory is Swiss cheese at best. The more time you spend amongst the living, the less of yourself you remember. Not the most useful skill when you are attempting to uncover a murderer. It makes Detective Inspector Joe Lazarus a fascinating protagonist. He spends as much time trying to remember who he is as he does trying to solve the case. There is a core of confusion and niggling self-doubt in his own abilities that was refreshing. I love the fact that he has to go old school and carry around a notebook so he can refer to it when the fugue of the afterlife descends. It has a nice Memento-esque quality. The more he investigates the more he finds himself questioning who he is. That growing sense of uncertainty kept me hooked.

Fortunately, Joe is not entirely alone in his journey. As the new boy in The Dying Squad, he has been partnered with someone more experienced in the ways of the dead. Daisy-May is a foul-mouthed teen with a penchant for sarcasm. Her character is a breath of fresh air. Outspoken to the point of bolshie-ness, she is a perfect counterpoint to Joe’s confusion. Daisy-May speaks as she finds, often brutally so. I loved her. Simcox ensures there is depth to the character. We get to learn a some of Daisy-May’s backstory. I often find secondary characters are given short shrift. They don’t get the opportunity to breathe. Not so in this case. Beneath all the bravado and cocksure attitude, there is a strength to the Daisy-May that is so intense seems almost tangible. We get to see what has made her the way she is and how that inner steel guides her actions.

Though I’m Scottish, by a weird twist of fate, I am quite familiar with the wilds of Lincolnshire. It is the perfect setting for the novel. Amongst the seemingly endless fields, there is a stark beauty. The county is just about as flat as anywhere could be and the horizon seems to go on forever. Lincolnshire winters can be pretty damned bleak and I have to admit, having been there at that time of the year, the evocative descriptions of Joe’s surroundings are bang on the money.

I was surprised by just how gritty The Dying Squad manages to be. Through the course of their investigations, Joe and Daisy-May have to rub supernatural shoulders with all manner of low lives. Drug dealers, pimps and junkies abound. Turns out, for a rural location, Lincolnshire is quite the hotbed of crime. The drug trade does not bring out the best in people and there are double-crosses and violent death all over the place. Simcox’s writing never sugar coats any of this. The people drawn into this world are broken down and spat out by it. There is no glamour here. The story manages the feat of blending hard-nosed crime with the supernatural very effectively. It’s impressive stuff, made all the more so when you discover this is the author’s debut novel.

I really enjoyed The Dying Squad. The revelations towards the novel’s end were well handled and I could have happily read more. That’s probably a good thing as things are left wide open for a sequel. Fingers crossed that appears at some point in the future.

The Dying Squad is published by Gollancz and is available from 22nd July.

My musical recommendation to accompany The Dying Squad is the soundtrack to the television series Collateral by Ruth Barrett. It has an otherworldly quality the I think matches the overall tone of the novel rather nicely.



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