Written by Jacqui Rose — Over the years, the crime fiction genre has been graced by a veritable procession of tough guy crime lords, plucky prostitutes and dodgy coppers, all plying their trade in that there London. Betrayed features all three, but it is to Jacqui Rose’s credit that she brings a freshness to such a well worn formula.
The book opens in 1990, and 11-year-old Kathleen Barker is searching in vain for her younger sister, Bronwin, in the woodland of a London park. In a matter of minutes, Kathleen has been brutally raped and murdered as her six-year-old sister looks on in horror from her hiding place in the undergrowth. It’s a turning point in Bronwin’s young life – she has witnessed it all, but no one believes her when she identifies the culprits, and she is taken into care. For the next nine years she is passed from foster home to foster home until she escapes the system in her teens.
Skip to present day Soho in London and high class call girl Bunny Barker is enjoying the fruits of her labours. She is a tough, fiercely independent woman who is beholden to no one – not even Del Williams, the father of her much loved daughter Star. Williams is the toughest gangster in town, running a range of lucrative if illegal businesses involving drugs, girls and clubs. He adores Bunny and Star although the same cannot be applied to his wife, Edith. Del would dearly love to divorce her, but Edith knows far too much and wouldn’t think twice about spilling the beans if the luxury lifestyle she enjoys in the Costa del Sol was ever threatened by her errant husband.
Add crooked Met detective Teddy Davies, a bunch of Russian gangsters and a shady, extremely well-connected paedophile ring into the mix and you’ve all the ingredients for a fast-paced and wholly entertaining yarn that moves from London to the Costa del Sol and back again. As past and present collide, Bunny has to face up to her own worst nightmare when Star is threatened. Can she put her demons behind her and focus on what matters in the here and now?
Jacqui Rose has been compared to Martina Cole and it’s true that their novels cover similar ground, but Rose takes a much lighter approach to murder and mayhem. If ever a gangster crime caper could be described as ‘cosy’, then Betrayed is it. Which is quite a feat considering the subject matter.
Some characters border on the clichéed – knuckle-headed and decidedly dim hard man Fat Man Burke is a case in point – but generally Rose manages to trip along the tightrope between farce and authenticity. There are times when the action teeters on the edge of slapstick, but it only serves as light relief in a well scripted story. It’s a novel approach that I found both entertaining and engaging.
CFL Rating: 3 Stars