It started with a splash. Jimmy, a homeless veteran grappling with PTSD, did his best to pretend he hadn’t heard it – the sound of something heavy falling into the Tyne at the height of an argument between two men on the riverbank. Not his fight.
Then he sees the headline: GIRL IN MISSING DAD PLEA. The girl, Carrie, reminds him of someone he lost, and this makes his mind up: it’s time to stop hiding from his past. But telling Carrie, what he heard – or thought he heard – turns out to be just the beginning of the story.
The police don’t believe him, but Carrie is adamant that something awful has happened to her dad and Jimmy agrees to help her, putting himself at risk from enemies old and new.
But Jimmy has one big advantage: when you’ve got nothing, you’ve got nothing to lose.
The Man on the Street is an interesting take on the amateur investigator. Jimmy Mullen thinks he sees a man thrown into the River Tyne, but Jimmy is an ex-convict, a war veteran, clearly suffering from PTSD with frequent, harrowing flashbacks to his experiences in the Falklands. Jimmy is also homeless, and the last thing he wants to do is draw attention to himself, living by his mantra of “it’s not my fight”.
The appeal of the daughter of a missing man, Carrie, reminds Jimmy of the incident and he can no longer ignore what he saw. The police, however, do not seem to take his report at all serious, so using his military background, he begins to investigating with Carrie.
There are some wonderful characters in this book and the character of Jimmy is slowly revealed to the reader. At the start he is barely comfortable with two fellow homeless men, hopeless, trying to escape but convincing himself he can’t be helped. As the trail begins he is skittish and selfish and the writing really brings out the conflict of the victim trying to do the right thing knowing it will go against him. He is a character you can’t help but like. An oddball for sure but one you so want to root for.
The story idea of using a homeless man with a complicated past he needs to keep hidden, but with a sense of service and public duty is clever, highlighting the victimisation of the homeless and the lack of position they have in society – more likely the homeless man is a murderer than a witness or victim. While Jimmy’s homeless friends, Gadge and Deano, give us further insight into the perils of being homeless and young or old, they also bring some of the lighter moments.
The story has a couple of delightful twists as Jimmy’s previous life is slowly revealed and intertwines with the current story, and I found the characters, often complex, were always well rounded. I really enjoyed this debut novel, and would love to read more of Jimmy in the future.
I’d like to thank the author and publisher, Quercus, for my proof copy I picked up from The Theakston Festival and for Trevor for taking the time to sign it for me.