Written by Andy Boot — Set in 1991, No Doves is a violent and unsettling read from the outset. Based in the East End of London, in the grip of the urban regeneration of the Docklands area, the book opens with the discovery of a corpse sans hands floating in the River Thames. The unfortunate floater is revealed to be Benny Grazione, a local boy made bad. With a potential outbreak of gang warfare looming, this is a must solve case.
It is assigned to local coppers Jack Goldman and Errol Ross. They seem like a low rent version of Crockett and Tubbs from Miami Vice, although it must be conceded that Ross is a particularly sharp dresser. As the body count mounts thanks to the disparate criminal gangs fighting on their patch, Goldman and Ross get caught up in the vigilante actions of some of their fellow officers, and find themselves having to fly below the radar to expose the corruption they uncover when they get too close to the truth for their boss’s comfort. What follows is a bloody and earthy tale that culminates at one of the most infamous sites in London crime history, The Blind Beggar pub, where this story of retribution ends in violence.
The stand out feature of this book has to be Boot’s use of London locales, setting the upwardly mobile enticements of the Docklands renewal against the grim conditions of the surrounding area, and other run-down boroughs. Goldman and Ross must straddle both worlds as their investigation unfolds, and the author’s depiction of the chasm between the two in terms of poverty and living conditions is a real hook as the plot progresses. Drawing on the less than privileged upbringing of Goldman in particular, Boot provides a colourful picture of how the aspirations of generations of East End families diverge as their neighbourhoods are marked for change, and the gap in wealth widens. Boot builds on this theme further using Goldman and his relationship with his dying grandfather as a further way to mark the differences between the generations in this traditionally working class area on the brink of massive change. Goldman came out of an impoverished area to work on the side of good, while the initial victim, Benny Grazione, clawed his way out of humble beginnings to thrive on the other side of the law. It’s a contrast the author returns to throughout the book.
No Doves pulls no punches in its language – there is casual racism and sexism, and plenty of violence and profanity. It is an utterly authentic East End gangster tale, and all of these elements work in harmony with the story, its setting and characters. Some of the plot does seem a little far-fetched at times, but the author gets himself out of jail beforehand in his frontispiece, saying, “The official line is that this didn’t happen. Even now, if you ask officially, everything that follows will be denied.”
The relationship between Goldman and his black colleague Ross works beautifully on the basis of their mutual mickey taking, but is a relationship underscored by respect and a deep trust in the other. These two characters are probably the most believable among the general ensemble, with some others requiring a certain stretch to keep their credibility. However, with the core strength of Goldman and Ross lurching from one dangerous set-up to another, and the multifarious villains they encounter along the way, this tale of good guys versus bad guys does not disappoint.
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CFL Rating: 4 Stars