L.A. Sykes’ The Hard Cold Shoulder (Near to the Knuckle) opens with Ben Pitkin, an ex-cop and private investigator, sitting at a train station watching trains come and go. Pitkin gets a call from an old snitch and criminal Tommy Rellis and Pitkin can “smell the pleading despair on his breath through the wire”, a man who messed up and it might lead to the death of his daughter. Pitkin agrees to take the case telling Rellis, “If I bring her back safe, I’m taking every penny you’ve got.”
A good and predictable start for a private eye book, but L.A. Sykes’ The Hard Cold Shoulder brings in one more trope that I didn’t want to mention straight up, Pitkin is a broken man. But hold on here and don’t snap to judgment; Sykes does this better than most – a lot better – in writing about Pitkin’s issues; Sykes handles it with clarity. When Pitkin got the call from Rellis, he was sitting on a train station platform something Pitkin does with regularity. The night ticket master thinks Pitkin waits for a woman, but he doesn’t correct him. It’s something else. Pitkin seems unsure at this point.
I knew Tommy Rellis was owed no pity, but I felt the torture of the man’s bad decision-making creeping into my fibres; echoes of my own mistakes illuminated in the bare, one bedroom flat with Closed In for unwanted constant company. The consequences of the man’s disgusting, selfish stupidity spiked into the forefront of my mind, ripping up ruminations of both mine and Tommy’s self-induced annihilation: The girl, Tabitha.
Her name flickered round and round and visions of streams of tears swam through my head and I forced myself to lie on my bed and clamp shut my eyes. Beads of sweat cascaded from my temples and I concentrated on breathing steadily, willing desperately needed sleep to carry me away.
Pitkin heads into the investigation with relish. When he doesn’t get a straight answer Pitkin doesn’t mind resorting to threats or violence to get the truth. L.A. Sykes’ The Hard Cold Shoulder is a strong and savage book, not about a man trying to salvage himself from despair, it about is a man jumping into a pain he can never escape from.