MancBook Review: Sirens by Joseph Knox


Morrissey could be right. So we’ve taken a leaf out of his book and started our very own book club. But not just any old books. Up for review are those written by Manchester authors (born and bred, adopted, dead or alive) or set in our fair city. Welcome to MancBook Club.

What are we reading?

Published earlier this year by Transworld (part of Penguin Random House UK) Sirens is the debut novel by Manchester-based Joseph Knobbs, written under the pseudonym Joseph Knox. It’s the first in a series of crime novels featuring troubled cop Aidan Waits and impressed The Guardian enough that they’ve drawn comparisons with a well-known crime writer. ‘Knox presents the city as pungently and uncompromisingly as Ian Rankin does Edinburgh.’ Here’s what we think.

What’s it all about?

Set in and around the dark drug-fuelled world of Manchester, disgraced young detective and full-time drug addict Aidan Waits is given an ultimatum when his hand is caught in the cookie jar – the station’s drug stash. Go undercover and flush out a corrupt police officer working alongside Zain Carver, the city’s biggest drug lord, or else…. Well, there’s not really a second option.

A sub-plot involves his investigation of the disappearance of the daughter of an MP who lives in Beetham Tower. A thoroughly shady type – as are most of the characters in the novel – the protagonist gets caught up in the middle of bent politicians, police, and rival drug gangs.

He encounters not one but multiple femme fatales. Beautiful and mysterious young women all seemingly in love with and working for Zain, collecting his drug money. You never really get to know any of them, and neither does Aidan despite him thinking they have become his friends, maybe as a result of his tough upbringing living in children’s homes and thus remaining a loner.

No one is on his side. It’s all very film noir, dark and moody, except for the most unlikely of friendships in the form of the Bug, a creepy blood sucking fellow addict and drag queen who proves he has a heart in the end. By which time most of the characters have either gone missing, been killed off, or gone on to start a new life.

What do we think?

This isn’t quite Manchester as we know it. The descriptions are a little awkward and don’t quite ring true. We’ve never heard anyone referring to West Didsbury as ‘West Dids’ or the Gay Village as ‘the gay quarter’, whilst the ‘invite-only restaurants to down-and-out soup kitchens’ of Deansgate are barely recognisable. Not even multiple Joy Division references can rescue this one.

It’s also rather far fetched. Is there actually anyone on the level? Anyone likeable? And can our hero really have this much bad luck?

Yet despite its flaws, Sirens is a thoroughly enjoyable read. It’s an absolute page-turner of a debut, the short chapter style meaning reading ‘just one more’ turns into nearly finishing the book in a couple of sittings. Fast paced, tense and gritty, Joseph Knox is definitely a talent to keep an eye on.

In the end

Sam Spade would have been proud of this urban noir thriller with its disillusioned male protagonist and multiple femme fatales. Aidan Waits might not be the most likeable of leads and the fact that he can actually get out of bed, let alone solve a crime, is little short of a miracle. This unlikely detective is cleaning up his act for the next in the series. Who knows where it will take him and what mystery he will get embroiled in. We can’t wait to find out.


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