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Wednesday, July 21, 2021

The Dying Squad by Adam Simcox review


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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Adam is a London-based filmmaker who’s shot commercials for brands such as McLaren, Primark and Vice, and music videos for Britpop veterans as well as fresh on the scene alt-country stars. He began his film career by writing and directing three features: the first sold to Netflix; the second and third won awards and critical acclaim at festivals worldwide. A graduate of the Curtis Brown Creative novel writing course, The Dying Squad is Adam’s debut novel.

FORMAT: Published by Orion on 22nd July 2021 | 316 Pages | 

OVERVIEW: Detective Inspector Joe Lazarus storms into the farmhouse to bring down a drug gang. Instead, he finds his own dead body. What the fuck? A spirit guide, the foul-mouthed and snarky Daisy - May, breaks the situation to him and recruits him into the Dying Squad. Joe must solve his murder before the killer strikes again.

The problem? More than one, starting with the fact that ghosts lose the memory of their former selves (unless they use “gum”) and of the time before they died. Danger lurks everywhere, on both sides of the astral plane.

I love the idea of an experienced investigator investigating his own murder. I love thrillers and supernatural elements, and The Dying Squad offers both. It even throws some purgatorial politics into the mix. 

The story follows the investigation until about halfway through the book, then the focus (and tone) changes. As the story unfolds, the reader discovers how the characters’ pasts intertwine. The story gets darker and genuinely surprising. The second half of the book deals with a possible uprising in Purgatory that could turn all the creation upside down. 

The relationship between Joe and Daisy May is the highlight of the story, just not in the way you initially expect. We get quality banter and laugh-out-loud moments from these two, but they’re not exactly Sherlock and Watson of the astral plane. Suffice to say, they’ve dealt with drug abuse, child exploitation, and corruption, and their story is more tragic than lighthearted.

I liked the timing and quality of the flashbacks to the events leading up to the deaths of Joe and Daisy-May, they added to the tension and sense of approaching tragedy. By alternating perspectives between characters, Simcox brings them to life as characters whose welfare readers can easily become invested in even if they don’t necessarily deserve it. The easy-flowing narrative kept me immersed in characters’ inner conflicts as they tried to find a way out of one precarious situation after another. 

What doesn't work as well is how the author writes bad guys - they feel rather flat and one-dimensional. The story doesn’t resolve many of the questions it raises, especially concerning the afterlife and its logistics and the nature of certain substances. Fortunately, it's the first book of the series and I’ll be looking forward to it to see whether it succeeds in delivering a full resolution in the sequels. Important note: it works as a standalone, it offers closure to the main arcs, it just doesn't answer all the questions you may have about the world.

The Dying Squad is a darkly captivating tale with just the right mix of humor, suspense, and mystery. Despite darker moments, it’s not a depressing read; It contains hope and innocence, strength and determination. I look forward to reading more from Simcox.

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