Nighthawking by Russ Thomas

Nighthawking is a brilliantly complex crime thriller, packed with twists, powerful visual imagery, and an invigoratingly diverse urban authenticity.  The plot and structure make for a compelling, don’t-look-away-now novel, and as for the cliffhanger … well!

Russ Thomas is a bold and brilliant new voice in crime fiction, his talent blazes as fiercely as the flames that rage through his book. Really wonderful, imaginative writing.
Kate Rhodes

PUBLISHED: 29th April 2021
SHELF: Thriller | Suspense | Mystery
AUTHOR: Russ Thomas
PUBLISHER: Simon & Schuster
FORMATS: Hardback | Kindle

He can’t bear to think of her that way, all cold and dead and wasting away in her grave beneath the rose bushes. He’d always pictured her whole, whenever he thought about her. All peaceful and sleeping. The way she’d looked when he buried her.

my review

Russ Thomas made a big splash in the crime-thriller book genre with his debut novel, Firewatching, last year.  Praised for its fresh, modern approach to the timeless murder-mystery genre, it’s clear the DS Adam Tyler series has plenty of potential for exciting new novels. I’ll cut straight to the chase with a bold confession; I’ve not yet read Firewatching (gasp!). It’s not the first time I’ve discovered a new crime series a bit late in the day, but I’ve always found myself hooked, and unable to resist going back to where it all started.

So I’m going into this series ignorant of what-went-on-before, and whilst this can sometimes work against the reader, I can say with every confidence it was extremely easy to slip into DS Tyler’s world.  In the book’s early chapters there were plenty of references to a dramatic past case, and conversations between characters that make it clear there’s some tangled backstories, but this didn’t affect my enjoyment of Nighthawking whatsoever.

Nighthawkers are detectorists who enjoy investigating sites with metal detectors under the cover of darkness, usually because they’re places where they shouldn’t really be.  And so the book opens to one such nighthawker who’s crept into the Sheffield Botanical Gardens and digs up more than he expected … a decomposed arm with a gold ring on one finger.  DS Adam Tyler and DC Mina Rabbani from the Cold Case Review Unit are called in to investigate, but it quickly becomes clear there are people who’ll go to significant lengths to stymy their inquiries. DC Rabbani’s fastidious eye for detail identifies the victim as a Chinese national, known to her friends as Chi, who’s studying rare orchids as part of her biology degree at the University.  Rather than bringing clarity, this discovery leads to more questions; not only how the disparate worlds of amateur detectoring and botany collide, but how to overcome the cultural challenges thrown up by an intrinsic distrust of authority.

Tyler is a great character to get to know.  He can be pretty frustrating, and it took me a while to warm to him as he initially came across as abrasive and secretive, but the further I got into the book the more I grew to like him.  His interactions with the victim’s vulnerable sister revealed an emotional intelligence that challenged my preconceptions, and from that point on I also started to view his relationship with Mina in a different light.  He shares many traits of some of my favourite fictional detectives; extremely talented, often at the wrong end of his senior officer’s wrath, blurring the boundaries at times, and making a bit of a hash of his romantic life.

On the other hand, I was drawn to Mina Rabanni immediately.  Like Tyler, she’s a fiercely intelligent officer but she’s relatively fresh to policing so she’s still establishing herself amongst her colleagues and peers.  As the book progresses, so too does her confidence, exposing an admirable integrity and strong views of right and wrong, which tend to bubble to the surface on the wrong end of a fiery temper. 

The book also encompasses two other cases, which run concurrently alongside the main investigation. I really enjoyed the way the multiple storylines bring an extra level of complexity to the plot; they accurately reflect a modern, busy police department, whilst enhancing the entangled nature of the primary case. One of these cases, however, is ‘off the books’; Adam’s ongoing investigation into the death of his father when Adam was just sixteen years old.  Meanwhile, festering just below the surface are hints of senior level corruption whose insidious dangers remain just on the fringes of our understanding until the very last moment.

Nighthawking has been been written with a refreshingly modern finesse, gifting the reader with a compelling breadth of strong characters, whose authentic relationships reflect the diversity and dynamics of loyalty, secrecy and ambition, with just the right amount of tension and personality clashes.  The twisting complexities of the main plot are complemented by the book’s structure, which alternates in perspective between the investigative team, and the furtive intervals narrated by the nighthawkers. 

This is a well-paced crime thriller, where the detailed police procedural elements strike a great balance with compelling twists, teasers and discoveries.  The momentum of the investigation increases considerably towards the book’s dramatic conclusion, in a climactic and thrilling turn of events that I did not see coming. With gratifying symmetry, this takes place where it all began, in the previously tranquil beauty of the Botanical Gardens.

So I end this review with a strongly worded note-to-self that Firewatching needs to be one of the next books I open.  I’ve really enjoyed Nighthawking and I’m over the moon to have another detective series to read … let’s just hope Russ Thomas is working on the third instalment.  

Thank you to Simon & Schuster for sending me an ARC of Nighthawking in return for an honest, impartial review. And thanks also NetGalley for approving my request for a digital copy! There’s no such thing as too many books!

russ thomas

Russ was born in Essex, raised in Berkshire and now lives in Sheffield. He grew up in the ’80s reading anything he could get his hands on at the library, writing stories, watching large amounts of television, playing videogames, and largely avoiding the great outdoors. He spent five years trying to master playing the electronic organ and another five trying to learn Spanish. It didn’t take him too long to realise that he’d be better off sticking to the writing.
After a few “proper” jobs (among them: pot-washer, optician’s receptionist, supermarket warehouse operative, call-centre telephonist and storage salesman) Russ discovered the joys of book-selling, where he could talk to people about books all day.

His highly-acclaimed debut novel, Firewatching, is the first in the DS Adam Tyler series and published in February 2020. Nighthawking is the second book in the series.

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2 thoughts on “Nighthawking by Russ Thomas

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