Without the Moon

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Without The MoonWritten by Cathi Unsworth — It was in July 2012 that I submitted by first review for Crime Fiction Lover and that book was Weirdo, by Cathi Unsworth. It’s still a favourite of mine and one I can recall after three years and countless other book reviews, which must say something.

Move on to 2015, and Unsworth has released another stand alone novel that couldn’t be more different from Weirdo. That book was set in a modern-day seaside resort, and in contrast Without the Moon is firmly planted in 1940s London, where a shady killer dubbed the Blackout Ripper is doing unspeakable things to women. The majority of his victims are ladies of the night, but DCI Ted Greenaway sees beyond the caked make up and loose morals to the poor, frightened women beneath. And it’s an image that spurs him on as the body count rises.

We know the identity of the murderer early doors, but it takes all the skills of the fledgling science of forensics to get him bang to rights. Time for Greenaway to catch up on some longed-for shut eye? No chance of that when another woman is strangled and pushed to her death in a way that shouts ‘copy cat!’ from the rooftops of the war-torn capital.

Greenaway is an interesting bloke. He may be in charge of the murder squad these days, but it wasn’t too long ago that he was embroiled in some very different police work. In the 1930s, Ted made his name as a straight-up copper by mixing with the good and decidedly bad at the race track, pursuing the notorious gangs who used force to control their gaming endeavours, and whose attention has been diverted to bank robbery since the privations of war hit gambling profits. It was his skill at capturing those shysters, crooks and conmen that led to Greenaway’s meteoric rise but it has also put him on the radar of some downright dangerous geezers who would like nothing more than to see him fail – and in spectacular fashion, hence that undercurrent of menace that seems to follow him wherever he goes.

In keeping with a book set during World War II, much of the action is played out under cover of darkness and there is a murkiness that lurks in the shadows as the tale progresses. The addition of a side story about spiritualists, magic and fortune telling adds frisson to a narrative that is already chock full of captivating detail. What I love most about this book is the skilful combination of fact and fiction. The Blackout Ripper really did exist and Greenaway is also based on a real-life copper, Edward Greeno. Unsworth is a dab hand at weaving utterly realistic backdrops for her story and her glimpses of the underworld (and underclass) of bomb-battered London give a new slant to the phrase ‘living history’.

As is to be expected of an acclaimed music journalist, Without the Moon is peppered with music references – the title is even taken from the lyrics to Let’s Face the Music and Dance. Alongside the gripping plotline, there is a neat game of spot the song to be played if you are inclined to do so. So there you have it, Without the Moon is a history-packed, music-filled, first class crime thriller that is as dark and claustrophobic as the Blitz blackout. I just hope it isn’t another three years before I make Cathi Unsworth‘s acquaintance again.

For more crime fiction set in London, click here. Without the Moon is released 9 July.

Serpent’s Tail

CFL Rating: 4 Stars

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