I started Nick Stone’s fourth novel, The Verdict, feeling somewhat grumpy with it. Part of the reason was down to a quote from Mark Billingham on the cover: ‘London now has its own John Grisham.’ I can see that there are probably millions of people throughout the world for whom that would be an attractive prospect but not me. John Grisham doesn’t float my boat. And actually, on the strength of Stone’s three previous novels – Mr Clarinet, King of Swords and Voodoo Eyes – Stone is better than that. What’s more, as I started reading, I worried that the cover quote was actually bang on. The Haitian fireworks of his previous books was replaced by a relatively straight London procedural: highflyer Vernon James is arrested for murder after a corpse is discovered in his hotel room following an awards dinner and Terry Flynt, the legal clerk working the case, just so happened to know Vernon way back when (before Terry’s own ‘dark ages’, a period in which Terry lost it, drank too much, a period largely the result of a Vernon James double cross). A bit of time is expended bringing us up to speed with how Terry has arrived at the point he has (38, not the most successful bloke in the world, something of a chip on his shoulder), time that coincides with the gradual investigation of the murder case (itself enlivened by the presence of a rough at the edges private investigator called Andy Swayne).
And then (didn’t you just know it?), Stone works his magic: the murder becomes a backdrop to a much larger narrative involving corrupt land deals, backdoor legal shenanigans, Israeli commandos, Rhodesian killers and mysterious blondes. Flynt’s initial unlikeability proves an unexpectedly compelling aspect to the book which gives Stone the opportunity to jerk the reader’s expectations (particularly in regard to Flynt’s ex Melissa who – you’ve guessed it – went on to marry Vernon). The development of the Vernon James character through the ups and downs of the court case is also expertly handled. But it’s Stone’s ability to craft a furiously complex narrative, twisting and twisting like a wet towel before the snap of the denouement. We also liked the gentle touch Stone applies to contemporary London, everything from the Royal Wedding to the riots getting their moment in the sun. All told, the novel packs a greater punch even than his previous books (and we really liked his other books just so you know). So, whilst we wouldn’t be falling over ourselves to say London now has it’s own John Grisham, we are very thankful indeed that London has it’s own Nick Stone.
Any Cop?: If you’ve read Stone’s other books and enjoyed yourself know that you don’t have to worry. You’re in safe hands. The Verdict is a blast.