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  • Writer's pictureRichard Swan

The Dying Squad by Adam Simcox - Review

Dying is hell; solving your own murder is purgatory.

All right! Just finished this last night, after having rattled through the last 50 pages or so. What a ride!

But what is it about, you shriek at the laptop screen, batting at it like a confused and angry ape.

The Dying Squad follows follows Detective Joe Lazarus, a man who is killed about 3 pages in to the book and who abruptly and unceremoniously enters the spirit dimension, a purgatorial plane home to the unwashed masses of souls who live out their afterlives in a sort of livestock-esque manner. Joe’s spirit guide is Daisy May (one of the best characters I’ve read in recent years) a wise-cracking, foulmouthed teenage girl who has all the best lines in the book. Daisy May’s job is to help Joe Lazarus transition from the mortal coil to the immortal coil, and in so doing induct him into the Dying Squad, a sort of detective force of the recently-deceased whose job it is to discover the form and nature of their own deaths. Joe is subsequently repaired to the freezing Lincolnshire countryside to investigate a drugs ring that he was investigating before he was killed, whilst in the afterlife, the purgatorial Dispossessed are starting a revolution courtesy of the realm’s matriarch’s sister, who has recently returned from Hell and is stirring up trouble.

It’s difficult to define what genre this is. It’s interesting because it could, but for a few bits, be a police procedural; but at the same time there is this fascinating afterlife element which puts it more in the vein of urban fantasy. I would have compared it to Charlie Stross’s Laundry Files, or Mike Carey’s Felix Castor series.

“Get a fucking grip, Joe thought. Houses don’t bruise, they don’t need to heal, and nothing haunts them.
Although that wasn’t true, because the fact was […] he’d been killed in this house, and here he was, back at the scene of the crime, trying to find out who’d done it. If it wasn’t an actual haunting, it was a solid homage to one.”

I really liked this book. It just rattles along at such a pace. It’s so tight, everything is in furtherance of the plot. The reveals come thick and fast, some I saw coming, more I didn’t, whilst the supernatural bits add a spooky, at times genuinely chilling element to proceedings. The Xylophone Man in particular, Hell’s enforcer, a man who delights in wearing an elephant skull for a head and devouring naughty souls who’ve breached the barrier between the living and the dead, is a fantastically horrible character, and not overused as must’ve been the temptation. Basically Pyramid Head from Silent Hill, which shitted me right up as a 14 year old:

The writing style is very punky, very wry, almost as though Simcox is stood watching you read with an eyebrow cocked the entire time. It’s got some very amusing, blink and you miss it one-liners:

“A blazing fire separated the group. An elderly man and woman sat on one side, screaming expletives at teenagers on the other, harsh Slavic tones Joe would have identified as Bulgarian if his life had depended on it, or Romanian if it hadn’t.”

But the same time Simcox isn’t above giving us a good lame joke:

“Peeling back the cover, he removed the pen from his pocket, knocking it against his teeth. Just think of yourself as a ghost-writer, Daisy May had said when she’d given it to him, taking a good thirty seconds to laugh at her own joke.”

The book is certainly a bleak one. Were it not for the caustic comic relief provided by Daisy May, it almost would have been too bleak for me. Simcox pulls no punches when it comes to the seedy, sordid nature of the drugs ring and the decaying suburbs, country villages and seaside towns of Lincolnshire. It is also an undoubtedly violent book, and tackles all manner of shitty human behaviour between its covers which may necessitate a more light-hearted read afterwards to cleanse the palate.

Notwithstanding this, I definitely want more. I want to read more Daisy May and I want to spend more time in the afterlife (metaphorically speaking) and learn about the mechanics of it all. Simcox does not overburden us with details of the spirit dimensions, instead drip feeding us bits and pieces, which is just enough to whet the appetite without overdoing it. Without giving away any spoilers, the book is set up nicely for more ghostly crime solving capers - and I will certainly be in line for the next instalment of the series.

My verdict? Buy this now and put some money in Simcox's pocket. I want TDS to become the next Dresden Files!

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