Ewart Hutton’s GOOD PEOPLE is an accomplished debut, with economical character building, neat and clever plotting and a fascinating protagonist.
Hutton doesn’t fall into the trap, so tempting for a debut, of putting a setpiece, horrific murder or other act of violence up front. The novel opens with less of a ‘who done it?’ than ‘was anything done?’ His character, DI Glyn Capaldi, tags along on a routine call about a mini-bus that’s been almost casually stolen by a group of local, well-regarded men from the small community where Capaldi has been seconded. When only five of the group turn up hungover and sheepish the next day, minus a soldier due for redeployment to Afghanistan and a mystery woman, Capaldi is hesitant as an outsider to go along with his colleagues’ opinion that these are all good local people who got up to some hijinks. Hutton blends a nice sardonic tone to Capaldi’s involvement; yes, he’s concerned about the missing woman, but a large part of his initial motivation is to stave off boredom.
What seems relatively pedestrian builds subtly but inexorably to a dark, China Town-esque third act where long-hidden secrets are revealed. The matter-of-fact way that these revelations are made and filtered through Capaldi to the reader heightens the horror. The plot is dense, but for the most part plays fair, and Hutton shows particular flair in hiding important details in plain sight. However, one important plot development hinges on the legality of a property search; while the deliberations about this between the cops is handled with skill and subtlety, it does reflect on the overall conservative nature of crime fiction – forget due process as long as we get the bad guy – that is so commonly seen in crime novels. The large cast of characters is sketched well, with some particular standouts painted fully with just a few paragraphs. Despite Hutton’s ability to flesh out characters, not all of the original gang are well-differentiated, and suffer from more shallow development as a result.
From a nuts-n-bolts point of view, the book genuinely suffers from a proliferation of adverbs. Far too often, we are told in one word how a character said something or moved. Hutton has a background in writing for radio which may reveal a lack confidence in communicating dialogue that isn’t meant to be spoken aloud. Hopefully in future novels Hutton will realise that his skill with dialogue and action makes the need for such crutches redundant. Seriously.
Glyn Capaldi is a wonderful creation, a welcome departure from the angst-ridden, vice-laden detectives that so often crop up and prop up crime novels. Hutton weaves Capaldi’s backstory into the narrative without losing momentum. The hints at what has happened with Capaldi’s failed marriage, and the reasons for his exile to the Welsh hinterland are explained with just enough detail to satisfy the reader’s curiosity, while also wanting to learn more. This bodes well for what looks like to be a continuing series featuring Capaldi, with this novel’s follow-up DEAD PEOPLE being published in 2013.