Book review: The Cyclist by Tim Sullivan

The Cyclist (A DS Cross Crime Thriller) – Tim Sullivan

It starts with a murder, as it often does in a crime thriller, or to be precise – since precision is important to DS George Cross – The Cyclist starts with the discovery of a body found wrapped in plastic sheeting on the site of a plot of garages due for demolition. Like Tim Sullivan’s first DS Cross thriller, The Dentist, the clue to the identity of the victim is in the title, Alex Paphides supposedly on his way to take part in a cycling competition. Is that factor perhaps something to do with his death? Well, the route to that is an investigation that will have many of the characteristics, stages, climbs and breakthroughs of a cycle race.

Breakthroughs, Breakaways? I’m stretching the metaphor a bit there, but when it comes to crime investigation, DS Cross – a keen cyclist himself – is very much methodical and focussed on taking everything a stage at a time, certain that he will get to the finish line with a win if he sticks to procedure. DS Cross, as we discovered in The Dentist, is on the spectrum, but it’s the characteristics of his Asperger’s condition that make his methods well suited to crime investigation, looking for patterns, finding things that don’t fit and relentlessly pursuing them.

Those methods and characteristics however don’t fit in well in social situations or in office relationships, but George continues to work on that. Like Tim Sullivan’s DS Cross series itself, there are no significant advances made here on development of the character or his colleagues, but small steps are made and there is definitely a better understanding developing between them which is important to the progress of the investigation here. Small steps are also advanced in Cross’s personal life, the curious detective making an effort to to socialise and integrate into society or at least get better at making it look like he is getting better. All the while the Somerset and Avon Police Force, like everyone else in Public services, struggles with resource issues and efficiency cuts.

All these seem relatively minor matters, and you couldn’t say that you are in for a ride as far as this investigation goes. It’s definitely not edge of the seat gripping stuff (I recommend David Mark or Steve Cavanagh if you want something a cut above the ordinary there) but there is something compelling and refreshingly different about Cross and his methodical approach that draws you into the realities of his world and his way of thinking. It’s a process of slow accumulation, growing intrigue, small details and peculiarities given attention until they yield their mystery.

So while there is very much a Sherlock Holmes feel to the methodology (Sullivan significantly having previously worked as a screenwriter on Jeremy Brett The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes TV series) and indeed to the character of Cross (it’s often been speculated that Conan Doyle’s detective shows behaviours that suggest he may have been the spectrum too), the cases here are of a different time and of a different crime. What starts out like looking to be around performance enhancing drugs which Alex appeared to be using for a competitive cycling competition, gradually opens out to tackle larger issues, the criminal investigation gathering in scope and in relevance to the very topical issue of foreign money and dubious international business interests.

What is more significant is that this case – as well as the previous one The Dentist – again seems to relate to families, and Cross’s experience of family life differs from everyone else’s. Family problems are one of the most common causes of crime and it’s interesting – and probably much more relatable to the reader – that this seems to be the main focus of the DS Cross series so far. Sullivan’s details about Cross’s own relationship with his father then are very pertinent and not just there for background colour or conventional character development. This is about more than about solving a crime for Cross; it’s about understanding why and to understand why he needs to understand how other people work and that seems to me to be a very good basis for a crime series.


Updated: Aug 29, 2020

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