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Review: True Crime by Manchester author Joseph Knox

Fact and fiction are blurred in this chilling but dazzlingly original story about a Manchester University student’s sudden disappearance

Fans of Manc noir crime thrillers will no doubt already be familiar with Joseph Knox, whose debut novel Sirens was a bestseller and has been translated into 18 languages.

“Joseph Knox owns Manchester and paints it in all its grimy colours,” said Val McDermid about the sharp modern noir, the first of a trilogy introducing troubled junior detective Aidan Waits, which was set in the city.

And The Guardian was equally impressed with Joseph’s portrayal of Manchester, writing that he “presents the city as pungently and uncompromisingly as Ian Rankin does Edinburgh.”

In True Crime Story, his latest book out this week, Joseph, who was born and raised around Stoke and Manchester, blends fact and fiction in a chilling but dazzlingly original story centred around a student’s sudden disappearance.

What’s it about?

In the early hours of Saturday 17th December 2011, Zoe Nolan, a 19-year-old Manchester University student, walked out of a party taking place in the shared accommodation where she had been living for three months.

She was never seen again.

Seven years after her disappearance, struggling writer Evelyn Mitchell finds herself drawn into the mystery. 

Through interviews with Zoe’s closest friends and family, Evelyn begins to try to piece together what really happened in 2011.

Some of the stories and recollections overlap, aligning perfectly with one another; others stand in stark contrast, giving rise to troubling inconsistencies.

Shaken by revelations of Zoe’s secret life, and stalked by a figure from the shadows, Evelyn turns to crime writer Joseph Knox, who cleverly appears as a character in his own book, to help make sense of a case where it seems like everyone has something to hide.

Zoe Nolan may be missing presumed dead, but her story is only just beginning.

And so the reader is drawn into this compelling tale, which is fiction but presented in the form of a transcript of interviews from the parties involved, making it seem real even though we know it isn’t.

It’s an immersive experience as the reader tries to piece together clues, a complex and disturbing picture emerging from the transcripts and also a series of emails between Joseph and an increasingly paranoid Evelyn.

Photographs and mocked up newspaper articles add to what’s already a disorienting feeling for the reader as fact and fiction become increasingly blurred.

A Manchester setting

Manchester readers will perhaps feel even more invested in the story, which is set in our city and full of familiar locations, whether it’s buzzy bars or brutalist buildings, from an author who has himself spent time living in Salford, Fallowfield, Hulme, Longsight, Moss Side and Whalley Range.

“Manchester had made me, for better or worse,” Joseph writes in the introduction.

“It was the first place I’d ever had my heart broken, the first place I’d ever had my nose broken, and somehow that encapsulated so much of what I loved about the city.”

And that toughness and romance of Manchester shine through in the ambitious new book, which both satirises and admires the true-crime genre and is by turns unnerving, intriguing, and even drily funny in parts.

Utterly addictive, True Crime Story shows a writer at the top of his game.

True Crime Story is out now in hardback, ebook and audiobook, published by Penguin Random House.

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