Review: The Smiling Man


You may remember, if you’ve been hanging round these parts a while, that I read the debut novel, Sirens,by Joseph Knox last year and I loved it so I have been ridiculously excited to get stuck into the second in his Aiden Waits series, The Smiling Man.

Excited, and a little nervous; you know how it is, that hint of trepidation when you read something by somebody new and you love it and you’re a little scared in case what if the next thing they write *gasp* just isn’t as good. Although, I kind of knew it would be, it was kind of obvious from reading Sirens that it wasn’t some kind of fluke because people don’t write like that by accident you know, it’s a talent, but still, there’s still the teeny little niggle of fear because what if.


What if I was less of an idiot because here’s the thing: if Sirens was good then The Smiling Man is better. It’s like Knox was just warming up, just getting into his stride with Sirens because what we have here is something else entirely. We all know I love me a good thriller but we also all know that I love a book that is clever and well constructed and beautifully written. TICK, TICK, TICK and TICK.  

I mean, this is some series storytelling; this is everything I love about crime writing, this is everything I love about writing and I need to calm down because I think my excitement is showing. This is what happens when I start writing my review in bed when I’ve just finished the book: word vomit.
Basically, following on from the dramas of Sirens, Aiden Waits, disgraced detective, has been relegated to permanent nightshift, supervised by asshat obnoxious offensive DI ‘Sutty’ Sutcliffe. It’s not the best partnership, partly because they hate each other and partly because Sutty is an obnoxious, offensive asshat and nobody trusts Aiden and they’re both a bit pissed off that they’ve been relegated to investigating middle of the night dustbin fires.


There’s an injured security guard and an anonymous body, a journalist threatening a young girl with revenge porn, a missing sex worker and quite possibly one of the baddest bad guys I’ve ever read. It’s all going on but it never feels like too much and it’s so damn clever, how it all pieces together. Can I just say here also, that like with Sirens, I loved the Manchester setting; it kind off adds something extra for me, being able to picture it all so clearly and in a weird way, because the things that go on here aren’t pretty, these books kind of feel like Knox’s love letter to his city.

The story is dark, darker than Sirens for sure, and so twisty and so turny and unexpected and I LOVE THAT. I love not knowing where the story is going, and this one builds up so slowly and oh my GOD sometimes it’s just so tense. Tense and intense and I was captivated. I could not put it down. When I wasn’t reading it, I was wishing that I was.

It’s hard hitting but it’s also subtle; there are parts that make you want to look away, that if it were a film you’d watch from behind a cushion or with your face buried in your boyfriend’s chest and then all of a sudden there’s a scene that’s breathtakingly poignant. It’s just…it’s really good writing.  Oh, but it’s good writing. This is the kind of writing that gets under your skin, so descriptive it gives you goosebumps, makes you think, picks you up and places you right into the heart of Manchester in a heatwave where a disgraced detective is unable to stop his own spiralling. It’s’s kind of phenomenal is what it is, atmospheric and evocative and really kind of beautiful. I am such a fan of Knox’s writing style. Such a fan. I highlighted SO MANY passages, here, have some of them:

He was at once attracted to, and repulsed by, the people. The boys were all snowflakes and fuckwits, the girls were easy or, worse, feminists, but he’d happily sit in cells, listening to them all night, he’d even drive them home when they were lost or drunk or both. To the untrained eye, these instances could look like sympathy, but in truth he enjoyed seeing people cast low. In truth, he encouraged it. He’d routinely let the names of informants slip to violent criminals, he’d drop young girls working as escorts in the worst parts of town. He told me he’d once attended an AA meeting, poured a bottle of vodka into the free coffee and waited, watching, as people got drunk. 

Double-decker buses roared by like bright, empty boxes of light. I’d started to walk back into town when I heard a movement behind me. I turned and saw someone, the shape of a man, standing by the entrance of The Temple. He was in shadow but I must have been back-lit by the street, and I could feel his eyes on me. Neither of us moved for a moment, then I turned and walked away. 

The missing missing were people who dropped off the face of the earth and kept on going, with no one in their lives who noticed, or no one in their lives who cared. When they were found dead, with no means of identification, it was almost as though they’d been born that way. 

Also also whilst I think probably this book would be ok as a standalone, having read and loved Sirens I loved how it carried on from there; Aiden is such a good character and I loved the way we got to know him in this book, how what I already thought was an excellent and well-developed character really came to life. Aiden’s an interesting protagonist, something different, damaged and tortured and hiding from himself and watching his story evolve alongside the crime he’s fighting to solve is amazing. You read this and you’re watching Aiden’s story wind its way around the dead-body-in-the-hotel story which is tied into a girl who is terrified this guy is going to post a video of them having sex online and then there are these flashback scenes and there are so many threads to this story and they’re winding into and around each other until you can’t tell where one ends and the other begins and you’re turning the pages faster faster faster until you reach this conclusion that whilst it doesn’t tie up all the loose ends still leaves you feeling strangely satisfied. Holy run-on sentence batman.
Knox isn’t just writing a crime story here I don’t think, he’s writing about people and the messed up layers of humanity and where do you go when you’ve hit rock-bottom and there’s no way back up and it’s that – his characterisation, the way he makes you feel about the people he’s drawing so cleverly on his pages that means that despite kind of getting answers you’re left wanting more.
I want so much more. Write another book please Joseph Knox.

Could this be my book of the year? IN MARCH. Well, good luck to all the other books trying to top it is all I can say.

It’s out today, YOU SHOULD ALL GET A COPY.