Black Moss - David Nolan

So I was cruising around the Fahrenheit Press website (note to self: learn the concept of “just browsing”) when I saw this striking cover. Read the blurb. Seconds later it landed on my kindle. Not sure how that happened but I’m really glad it did. This is a gritty, engrossing read with a genuine WTF ending.

 

Alternating chapters tell the story in 2 time lines. In 1990 we meet Danny Johnston, a young reporter with Manchester’s most popular radio station. The city has been inundated with press due to a riot at nearby Strangeways Prison. So it’s all hands on deck to cover the ongoing drama. Except Danny. As the junior guy, he’s left to pick up the stray stories that barely get a mention. One in particular will have a lasting effect.

 

He gets tipped to head out to Black Moss Reservoir, a bleak place on the Yorkshire border. Danny’s not even sure what he’s responding to but arrives to find police at the scene. He’s the only journalist there & the cops waste no time sending him on his way but not before he sees something that will haunt him for years……the body of a small boy face down in the sand.

 

When we meet again in 2016, a few things have changed. “Daniel” has moved on to the bright lights of London & is kind of a big deal.  His popular investigative exposés have made him a recognizable face. But fame has a down side…. like when you just crash your car & you’re so drunk all you can see is the guy filming the whole thing with his phone.

 

Right. With a court case pending, it’s time to quit drinking & take a hard look at his life. How did he get here? As he sifts through events from the past, one in particular stands out. An image of the little boy on the moors who was never identified. Maybe if he went back to Manchester where it all began he could find some of those principles he used to have & right a terrible wrong in the process.

 

This is a gripping story that deals with disturbing subject matter. As both time lines progress we learn what happened in 1990 & it’s effect on the present. We also get to know Daniel. In the present you’d be forgiven for thinking he’s a bit of a knob. But as he gets sober, he begins to see things with unpleasant clarity. By reopening the old investigation, he not only makes discoveries about the boy but about himself as well.

 

It’s a pacy read bolstered by short, punchy chapters & lean prose. The supporting cast is full of well drawn characters from all walks of life. Several are just dodgy enough to make them viable candidates for your bad guy list. The alternating chapters are effective. Sometimes when this device is used, one time line will be stronger or more interesting than the other. Not here. I found both equally compelling, especially toward the end. There’s a growing sense of menace to the historical chapters that lends an urgency to those set in the present.

 

On one level, you can read this as just a great, gritty crime thriller. But it also has something to say about how society treats those who are outcasts, nameless or marginalized. Sadly, the reason parts of the story are so poignant is because they’re true.

 

Although the author has written plenty of non-fiction, this is a debut novel which is impressive. His familiarity with Manchester is evident through atmospheric descriptions of the area & use of real life events such as the Strangeways riot. I became very fond of several characters & would happily join them on any future outings. It’s not always an easy read but one that will definitely keep you turning the pages.