Before I begin, let me say this one thing. I never, for so long now, have had nightmares, let alone those I can remember. I can’t even remember basic and nice dreams, for God’s sake. But just before I finished this book, and with just a few pages to the end of it, I woke up at 4.17am in the middle of a nightmare, a living one to come to terms with; something that took a couple of days to subside. It was very real. So real, I don’t want to describe it. Coincidence perhaps. But I’m not sure.
For a book that might be hailed as "comic crime", (a misleading label, I believe) – it’s certainly racey and pacey with eccentric characters – those living on the edge of society that is – this book is something much more than it says on the label.
In a nutshell: Jen innocently turns up at an interview for a BBC researcher position to keep "the dole" off her queue at best, but at the interview she encounters "Stapled Stan", someone she’s seen before, albeit without a face. (Just his stapled penis, in case you’re wondering. The rest of his body was encased in leather.) Jen offers to help Stan and is subsquently paid for it in her new role as Private Investigator, but the lines of truth run deep. Stan, hubbie of an MP, leads a double life where he’s into S&M in a big way. It looks like Stan is the subject of bribery, but no demands are made. Violence ensues and it’s not just Stan that suffers. Jen and her neighbours in the Nirvana Co-op are also targeted, so Jen now needs, more than ever, to find out the truth behind what is going on…
This book is less about comic crime and more about quirky lives and living. "Quirky" is perhaps a label of disservice too. The inhabitants at Nirvana are all at stages of their lives where they seek to leave their troubled pasts behind and live as normal a life as is possible for them. At Nirvana, they find a sense of security they’ve not experienced before.
Some may see the use of S&M in the plot as gratuitous; but it’s not. The plot is entirely based around a person with a public profile, and with a wife with an even bigger public profile; having a secret life, which opens them up for bribery.
This book has images of violence and its impact and aftermath that hold true. (The "stuff of nightmares" perhaps?) I believe that’s because Alper has introduced them into a novel that concentrates on living as living is. I like a crime fiction novel that includes an element of humour, as I don’t believe anyone goes through a normal day without referring to it, for need or want. To include humour makes it real. Much as this book brought a smile to my face, it also brought tears to my eyes.
I page turned to the end. Like many other crime fiction authors, Alper focuses on contemporary issues in society to let us know where crime can be and what it’s all about. I won’t say which on this occasion as it would be a spoiler!
There are some wonderful inner-city characters in this book. Having once lived in a city and next door to a "second hand shop", the proprietor of which I had the odd chat with, (my co-habitees were too afraid to do so); I appreciate how life is often quirky and how the label may not fully describe the actual activity at hand. Hence, I loved the characters, including those from the shop next door, the shop being a character in itself. However, there was one, but only one character that I found a tad superfluous to the proceedings and that was Gaia. But she did lead to a funeral scene to rival one in John Lawton’s "Blue Rondo", which brought a smile to my face, as well as tears to my eyes.
Like Andrew Taylor’s page turning "A Stain on the Silence", which I featured recently, this novel is about secrets and finding out the truth. Unlike Andrew Taylor’s novel, it’s a page turner that comes with virtual reader amphetamines. I was a bit lost at the beginning with all the toing and froing timewise, but it settled down and the hook took me to the end, with the satisfaction of having read an exposé of south London life; a journey through crime and its impact; and an ending I could not have foreseen.
Now for the next one, "Trading Tatiana", coming to a blog post here before the new year… (I’m busy, I have lot to read, please let me off on the well advanced deadline. And that’s the only reason for the delay, I assure you… I reckon I’ll read it well before…)