Time to Win by Harry Brett
Harry Brett is the pseudonym of Henry Sutton, whose comic novels are hugely enjoyable. (I reviewed Gorleston and Get Me Out of Here here). The pseudonym marks a change of style from comic to crime for Time To Win can best be described as Norfolk Noir, and comes with a cover quote from Ian Rankin, ‘The Godfather in Great Yarmouth’, which creates a certain expectation.
I was instantly intrigued, as my first job out of uni, was working for an electronics company in Great Yarmouth, and for the year and ten months that I lasted there I discovered as a young South Londoner that Norfolk and the environs of Great Yarmouth are a unique location. Situated at the mouth of a river, Great Yarmouth has an industrial business and port side/container terminal contrasting with the traditional British seaside end of town. Latterly, I lived in Gorleston, which is on the opposite side of the river to Yarmouth – I used to catch a manky old ferry to work acorss the river – that 22p fare made it more expensive than Concorde oer mile we calculated. I’ve never been back!
Brett’s novel is full of the geography of the area,; I recognised much of it, and indeed, I lived just a few minutes walk from the Goodwin family home in Gorleston.
The High Street was busy. Slow traffic, slower pedestrians. Everyone was so odd. Movility scooters were everywhere. When Rich persuaded Tatty to move to Gorleston she was barely twenty. It hadn’t seemed so bad, given where she had been living, and despite the fact that everyone else was in their eighties. The age gap had closed terribly. …
There was a jam on Bridge Road, backing up past the huge grey Matalan outlet. There was always a jam on Bridge Road, as people approached one of the few entrances to the long spit of land that was Great Yarmouth. Why so many people continually tried to get into the town was another unexplained story.
Enough of geography! The novel begins with a death. We move to the Goodwin home and Tatiana, Tatty, wakes up to find that Rich hadn’t come home. Later a knock on the door and the police tell her that Rich’s body was found in his car in the river by his office in Great Yarmouth, they presume suicide. Tatty presumes otherwise, Frank had many enemies, but she won’t tell the officer that. She has to call their three children, Sam, Ben and Zach – although Zach is presumed to be in the mid-Atlantic on a yacht.
Frank had run his business with his brother Simon. He was on his way to Las Vegas to promote their scheme to build a waterfront supercasino in Yarmouth. Tatty doesn’t trust him at all. The UK taxmen, the HMRC have also been sniffing around the company. She needs to take charge.
Flanked by Rich’s trusted sideman Frank strides into the Goodwin House offices, to be faced by his PA Sian who, it’s obvious, doesn’t want to talk to Tatty. Simon soon returns, not having got on the Vegas flight, and they try to close Tatty’s enquiries down. She has to stand her ground, and find out what Rich and Simon were involved in. She’s not just a housewife, Tatiana will prove she has nerves of steel and a skill for business that will take her deep into the local crime scene just as an American is also asking questions. The Goodwins had new rivals to being the top players in town and the stakes are high.
Our attention is kept throughout by the glamorous Russian widow Tatiana. Her character is complex: she has warm relationships with her grown up children, a lover down the road, hints of a troubled childhood herself. She has to keep her vulnerable side in check though, if she wants to best Simon in taking control of the family business. She does remind me of Melania! Of the other characters, son Zach, who had done some IT work for his father, will be key, and the loyal Frank will always be useful at her side. Rich’s brother Simon is naturally slimy and conniving and playing his own game.A scene where the family all go for drinks at the also fading hotel owned by a business rival was Fawltyesque and made me laugh out loud, echoing Brett as Sutton’s previous comic novels.
Set in a wet and windy autumn, the gloom of Great Yarmouth off-season adds to the dark feel of the narrative. Sure, Brett overdoes the geography a bit, but he gets the seedy feel of the shady business world in this fading town perfectly. This novel is a slow-burner. Not a lot actually happens, but we get to the bottom of Rich’s death. I did also wonder what Tatty did next – I gather there may be a series, and I shall be reading it. (8/10)
Source: Publisher – thank you.
Harry Brett, Time to Win (Corsair, April 2017) Hardback, 352 pages.