The blurb says:
HOPE ROAD: a psychological mystery
You can't change your past. But what about your future? -
John Ray, son of crime boss Antonio 'Tony' Ray, is the straight one of the family. With a successful business and a lifestyle to match, he wants nothing to do with his father's criminal world. But what does that world want with him?
A young prostitute is found dead in John's car, and Freddy Metcalfe, his best friend and employee, is framed for her death. Freddy denies everything but it's an open and shut case: he's going down for murder. John sets out to find the real killer.
But things get complicated. A stash of counterfeit money was also found in John's car, and the police seem more interested in that than in the dead girl. Then Lanny Bride turns up; one of the north's most ruthless criminals (and an old friend of the Ray family), Lanny is desperate to know who killed the girl. But why? Meanwhile, Freddy is too scared to talk to anyone, even his lawyer.
John's police detective girlfriend, Denise Danson, has been warned off the case by her boss. But she doesn't believe Freddy is guilty, and secretly helps John look for the murderer. The problem, though, is that uncovering the shocking truth about the girl's death will force John to confront his own criminal past and risk destroying his future, as well as losing the only woman he's ever loved.
A novel set in Leeds, this is the first crime-mystery in the LS9 series.
My verdict: pacy, involving and different. Recommended for crime fiction fans.
A lot of the energy of this novel comes from its present tense narrative, which works well at bringing immediacy to the story. It's told in the third person, largely from John's viewpoint. John is a great character: tough and streetwise because of his criminal heritage, but trying desperately to be a good guy and run a legitimate business. It's not hard to sympathise with him as he runs around trying to find out what really happened and to clear Freddy.
Denise and John's relationship adds a further complication to the story and greater interest. Denise's loyalties are torn, as she naturally wants to help John but can't risk getting caught up in anything less than legal. The backstory to their relationship is drip-fed beautifully, satisfying our curiosity without clogging up the action. It's clear that Barlow is a skilled writer (and no surprise that before self-publishing this novel, he has had others commercially published - the quality of this is comparable to traditionally published ebooks).
This is the beginning of a series set in Leeds. It's hard to see where it will go next, but I'm certain it will be worth reading. Overall, I really enjoyed it and found it a relatively fast read, as I was keen to pick it back up and see what was coming next. There were a few twists and several plot developments that I didn't expect, which is always satisfying. A good read will always surprise you, and Hope Road certainly does that.