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I promised to get my hands on this début novel from Chris Simms after I heard him speak at Harrogate’s Crime Writing Festival last year. He’s produced three novels since this début, but the motorway setting for Outside the White Lines was what caught my attention. It sounded different and it is. Road rage in this instance creates a killer and it’s someone who can’t stop killing.
Outside the White Lines tells the tale from three viewpoints: "the killer" (a nasty, feral and uncontrolled piece of work); "the hunter" (young Andy who has just joined the traffic police and wants to prove himself, but a nearing-retirement colleague who prefers to take it easy stands in his way); and finally, "the searcher", (an oddball character who lives on the periphery of society, finding a home on the central reservations and hard shoulders of the motorways, collecting and storing items found in his searches).
In a nutshell: there’s a serial killer at loose on Britain’s motorway network, cavorting as a breakdown attendant. Andy, a new recruit into the traffic police is determined to follow up on what he’s seen one night in order to find the killer, even if it means working (unofficially) during his enforced sick leave. A third party, never far from the killings, is also Andy’s main clue. Although a red herring in some ways, this "searcher" is often close to the scene of crime and a climax builds with all three coming together within yards of one another…
I wondered about the usefulness of this "searcher" at the start of the novel, but all became clear at the end, including the reason for his motorway visits and the building of his collection of exhibits from his forays there.
At the beginning, the first murder we encounter is that of man with a child in his car. However, the killer does not realise the presence of the child until he has murdered the father and Simms piles on the tension here, making for much page turning as what happens to the child is not known until almost the end of the novel.
It’s a fast paced read ending at a quick 274 pages, but it’s also a very sad tale, where it is clear that the continuation of life can be very fragile. It is also full of realism and finds the right balance when it comes to good and evil.
As I mentioned before, this novel is not recent; second hand copies (as well as new) are available on the Amazon link above, the second hand available from 1p. It’s always good to start with a writer’s début when there’s a good list on offer, in order to get into the writer’s style and development.
From this reading, I’d say Simms is one to watch.