THROWBACK THURSDAY: THE CUTTING CREW by Steve Mosby (Alex North) – 2005
Alex North’s novels The Shadow Friend (aka The Shadows) and The Whisper Man have deservedly attracted considerable attention and praise, and his forthcoming novel, The Half Burnt House, seems like it will further enhance his reputation as a leading writer of creepy crime fiction. Just as intriguing, however, are the eleven novels that North wrote under the name of Steve Mosby.
The Mosby novels are a quirky mixed bag and range from his eerie and very dark psychological/horror/ crime debut The Third Person, to the chilling serial killer thriller The 50/50 Killer, to the original and suspenseful cold case detective novel Black Flowers, which is probably my favourite. The Cutting Crew was his second novel and is also a good tough crime novel, but with some speculative elements.
Like a lot of the Mosby novels, The Cutting Crew is located in an unidentified location and time. It appears to be set in a contemporary 2005 era; there are references to computers, emails and mobile phones; but the timing is never stated. The location is a nameless city, possibly in a re-imagined England, which is divided into sixteen districts, each named after an animal, and each with its own characteristics. Local myths have it that the city was founded by eight brothers, each of whom brought their personalities and skills to the city. The city and its geography becomes an important part of the novel, and as the story progresses the old myths and rituals play an increasingly significant role.
The story initially revolves around the murder of a young woman. The small team of four policemen who investigated the killing never identified the woman and never came close to solving it. Four months on and the formerly tight knit group of detectives are in disarray. One of them, Sean, has disappeared into the city’s black heart and not been seen, while Martin has left the police force and his wife, and is drinking his life away. Things change, however, when Martin receives a simple note from Sean saying: “I found her”. Gathering the other two, Martin tries to find out what really happened to Sean and the woman, now known as Alison, but the path to discovery is strewn with bodies and betrayal.
The Cutting Crew is a tough, gritty tale that really draws you in. The opening sections read like a classic noir crime novel with crooked cops, dangerous vigilantes and an obsessive central character trying to find a killer. The central investigation into Alison’s death drives the book, but there is also a lot more happening in the background. The pace is generally good and there is plenty of violence, especially in the final third, and several longish reflections by Martin. There are also some great descriptions of the city and its people. Towards the end the speculative, maybe supernatural, elements emerge and the book moves quickly to a very violent and exciting ending.
The Cutting Crew is not going to appeal to everyone, but I found it to be very addictive and gripping. It is also interesting to see the evolution of Mosby over the early books and his development into Alex North.
I also really like the moody cover of the original edition of The Cutting Crew, which is a variation on the original cover for the first Mosby novel, The Third Person, and features six men walking across a bridge towards a city.
Here is a review I did of another Mosby novel, Black Flowers, which is more of a straight crime novel: https://murdermayhemandlongdogs.com/throwback-thursday-black-flowers-by-steve-mosby-alex-north-2011/