Written by Aga Lesiewicz — Vast in size, with a huge population and grubby streets side-by-side with Georgian mansions, London is an ideal venue for all classes of criminals. Consequently, writers love to set their books there. The professional middle-classes appear frequently in psychological thrillers and domestic noir (I See You by Clare Mackintosh or Apple Tree Yard by Louise Doughty). Organised crime is highlighted in Martina Cole‘s work, while police procedurals often show us the precarious life in immigrant communities (A Dark Redemption by Stav Sherez) or youngsters on council estates (Sarah Hilary’s Tastes Like Fear).
Even the Polish author Aga Lesiewiecz has chosen London as her setting. However, rather than take one of the usual starting points like the East End mob or The Met as her focal point, she introduces us to a new sub-genre, and you could call Exposure an urban thriller. Hers is the London of trendy lofts and hipster cafes, with media types and creative professionals milling around, posing, keeping pet snakes or going on fashion shoots with sex toys. This is the trendy London of Shoreditch and Hoxton, beautiful young people, and art galleries where graffiti is referred to as ‘street art’. Yet this aspirational, glamorous lifestyle is not all it’s cracked up to be, as professional photographer Kristin Ryder soon finds out.
Kristin used to dream of being an artist, but gave up on those plans to become first a crime scene photographer and then one taking photos for picture libraries and any advertising campaigns which might come along. Her French boyfriend Anton is a street artist in the Banksy mould. When Kristin starts receiving anonymous emails with sinister attachments and her work is sabotaged, she becomes fearful. Someone is watching her, someone seems to know an awful lot about her life and her career. Kristin may be a somewhat more upmarket heroine than those in Nicci French’s earlier standalones, but she reminds us of them – an intelligent, independent woman who finds herself thrust into a strange situation that she cannot explain or control.
Cue a plunge into a world of high-tech surveillance, computer spyware, zipped files, drones and… good old-fashioned murder. Kristin tries to understand who is targeting her and why, and the story rattles along at quite a pace. Aside from her strangely unsympathetic boyfriend, she has a whole suite of secondary characters to help (or possibly hinder) her as she zips through London’s East End on her bike. They include her best friend Sophie who is a chef, celebrity photographer Erin, her lesbian aunt Vero, plus many others with trendy professions, such as gallery curators, composers, sex-shop owners, florists and web designers. Soon you’ll be as suspicious of everyone as Kristin herself.
It could all become a bit too achingly hip, but there is some tongue-in-cheek humour at the expense of this lifestyle which saves Exposure from becoming the name-dropping exercise of Fifty Shades of Grey or Maestra. There is also far less sex. The book is first and foremost a psychological thriller and you will be exercising your page-turning muscles quite a bit! It’s hugely enjoyable read, which will have you checking your laptop, windows and doors very carefully indeed.
Lesiewiecz may originally be from Poland, but she has lived in the UK for over 30 years, so this is steeped in London specificity. However, if you are looking for a more Polish experience, try Anya Lipska, Mariusz Czubaj or Zygmunt Miloszewski.
Poland was guest of honour at the London Book Fair. For more information about literary events featuring Polish authors in the UK, follow the Polish Cultural Institute on Twitter @PLInst_London.
CFL Rating: 4 stars