In 2019 the Marvel Cinematic Universe reached its culmination in Avengers: Endgame, somewhat overshadowing the fact that Rob Innes’ 10-book Blake Harte series was also about to pay off in this, the first novel-length entry.
As with Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, it was a long road that brought us here: Blake has moved from bustling Manchester to the relative obscurity of Harmschapel, a village that turned out to have enough impossible occurrences per capita to keep even the staunchest sceptic occupied: locked room shootings, vanishing cars, a drowning in a lift, invisible killers, invisible weapons, and the Biblical triumvirate of resurrection, walking on water, and a very angry goat. And, with the various dramas that have engulfed not just Blake but the cast who surround and support him, it’s all been leading here.
Most of the fiction I read, and the overwhelming majority of the stuff that features of this blog, doesn’t rely on playing a long game. Hercule Poirot might drop the name of a killer from a previous case, but there was never anything about, say, Dumb Witness (1937) that turned out to influence After the Funeral (1953). These days titles like One, Two, Buckle My Shoe (1940), Three-Act Tragedy (1934), The Big Four (1927), and Five Little Pigs (1943) would form a cutesy interlinked series of escalating deaths, but the Golden Age was largely concerned with getting in, puzzling you, providing the answers, and then getting out again.
And, well, even when the modern stuff that I do read — these Adventures in Self-Pubishing, say — is designed as part of a series, I often jump in hither and thither motivated purely by an interest in the stories which contain impossible crimes and, typically, turn out to be unmotivated enough to wish to read those series any further. There are exceptions, but most authors a) aren’t writing series of impossible crimes or b) aren’t planning a long-running, over-arching story to pay off on themes and threads laid in earlier volumes. Or both. So to have read all the preceding volumes leading to this point, and to have invested in them to such a degree, is somewhat unheralded in my recent experience. I still haven’t seen Thor: The Dark World (2013), for pity’s sake, and a friend of mine is in that movie.
Thus, we reach this tenth volume with a certain apprehension: there are threads to be tied off, questions to be answered, and new mysteries to be stoked into existence and then rationalised away, all while being true to the characters, acknowledging the dramas from before, and covering the trappings we’ve come to expect (you don’t want to disappoint the Betty the Goat fandom, let me tell you). So let’s take them separately: the things that are being tied off and the impossible problem introduced for plot purposes herein.
The former is handled very well, as it happens: there have been questions lingering about certain developments (like, “Er, how could [SPOILERS]?”), and while some of the answers aren’t exactly surprising — one character in particular is revealed to not be Who They Seem and, while it’s not shocking per se, it does at least fill in a surprising number of gaps very quickly indeed — there are some great, unexpected reversals here for answers that you thought you’d had for the last couple of stories…bloody hell, this is why I don’t review long-running plot arcs, see? Talking about the tenth book in a series without giving away details of the previous nine is, perhaps unsurprisingly, a bit difficult. Jacqueline’s revelation in chapter 8 is the reversal you won’t see coming, that’s what I’m talking about. Happy now?
Talking about the new mystery should put me on safer ground, so let’s go there: the vanishing from the back of a prison van of a prisoner locked inside and handcuffed to a bench, under observation from a video camera that blacks out momentarily and, upon restarting, shows the van empty. The external workings of this are pretty clever, and show a good degree of ingenuity that has been the hallmark of the best of these stories: as with most impossibilities, it’s unlikely as all hell, but it’s also a lot of fun, and the way Blake unpicks it is clever. The only real let down is how visual the clues are — you, dear reader, don’t stand a hope in hell of solving this, because there’s no way to describe the key features without the attention being given to those details giving away the farm. On a TV screen, which feels like the medium something like this was designed for, it’ll work beautifully, however.
The internal workings of this vanishing are a little problematic (you can’t just send off a [SPOILERS] without telling [SPOILERS], right…?), but I’ve accepted far worse internal reasoning for the management of an impossible crime, and the essential principle is very sound. The resulting melee allows for at least one great identity reveal, and then everything comes to a head and a reckoning is, er, reckoned, and answers found, expectations up-ended, and it all ends in a good old-fashioned British shitshow, the sort of thing EastEnders used to turn out fairly reliably every Easter (and probably still do for all I know, I’ve not watched that show in about 15 years). And, if you’ve followed Balke this far, you’re already on board and this will prove no problem at all. Though, for land’s sakes, don’t make this your first Blake Harte story — you’ll be more lost than me tuning into EastEnders after 15 years and wondering why Anthoy Trueman isn’t the Square GP any more.
Er, he isn’t, is he? What happened with him and Zoe in the end?
For managing a long-form story arc that delivers surprises in this terminating chapter, Innes deserves a lot of credit: consider how rarely you’re still surprised by the revelations at the end of most novels these days, and then imagine spreading that over a four year period. Nine books will inevitably contain highs and lows in both the characters’ lives and the story elements, but for introducing me to the denizens of Harmschapel, and for working so diligently to play with the impossible crime in no less than 12 different ways, I am grateful to Rob Innes for the work he’s done over this saga. I would say I’m going to miss these guys, but then he bloody went and published an eleventh title, didn’t he? He’ll end up outdoing EastEnders at this rate…so let’s hope there’s a hunky GP in Harmschapel’s future, eh?
The Blake Harte Mysteries by Robert Innes:
1. Untouchable (2016)
2. Confessional (2017)
3. Ripples (2017)
4. Reach (2017)
5. Spotlight (2017)
6. Flatline (2018)
7. Skeletons (2018)
8. Touch (2018)
9. Atmosphere (2018)
10. Harte (2019)
11. Dollhouse (2020)