Initially, L. J. Hurst worked in the backrooms of the media industry. He now divides his time between work for an international scientific publisher and a rather more British independent bookseller. In years past he was a regular attendee at the Shots on the Page Festivals from whence Shots Mag sprung
Look at a map of the country and you will see the outline of Derbyshire like an arrow head at the heart. Stone underlies the shire, and the peaks of the Pennine hills stand as prominent as the protrusions of a starving dog's spine. The Great North Road has skipped to the edge of the county leaving its lanes to wind through valley bottoms with one exception: where the valleys have been dammed and reservoired to service distant cities over the hills. A road across one such dam, holding back the eponymous Jawbone Lake, sees the start of Ray Robinson's fourth novel, where a chase and a shot sends a car plunging into the mortal depths of the cold waters.
If you wanted to send someone to their death then a cold New Year's Eve and a lonely lake would be the perfect place for it, were it not – by chance – that Rabbit, a woman suffering loss and her heart already made ice, has gone to the lake for comparative solace and seen that killing done. Someone who can organise such a chase and the murder of a major financial figure in such near-untouchable circumstances will be willing to silence one more victim. In turn, Rabbit, a girl at the bottom of the heap, holding onto a minimum wage job in an ice cream factory in a county where even minimum wage jobs are not to be found in every street, let alone the jitties or ginnels that make back ways through her village, is likely to be afraid of the authorities as well, making her doubly vulnerable. That her on-off boyfriend from the factory keeps her supplied with marijuana to try to relieve her spiritual pain must be another risk.
Meanwhile, why should a local business man be a victim to a professional hit? What do his family not know about his job or who he has met in the times he has worked away? Joe Arms, must abandon his grieving as a son if he is to find where and with whom his father has been – that takes him south, first to the Channel coast and then to Spain. Everything, though, ends in a chase north.
Ray Robinson has not written a straight-forward thriller, not now, not ever. He is drawn to portraits of the different and the outsider. Electricity, his first novel, gives us the different experiences of someone with epilepsy, while The Man Without centres on a trans-gendered mental health worker who must help others even as he struggles with himself. In Jawbone Lake, Rabbit is in pain because her first child has suffered cot death but whether Rabbit, who was brought up by an “aunt”, could have given and received fulfilling love had her child lived is another question that she struggles to answer and troubles her more. How can she measure the threats to her when things already seem so bleak? That arrow head is pressing on the heart.
There have been some good thrillers set in the midlands and north in recent years but with Jawbone Lake you need to know that you will be getting something more.