When I told some Christie fan friends that I was reviewing the latest novel by Hugh Fraser (famed for his portray of Captain Hastings in the televised adaptions of the Poirot novels, as well as his hilarious portrayal of the Duke of Wellington in Sharpe), they were excited. ‘I wonder if it’ll be anything like Christie’s novels?’
Errr, no. Definitely not. Fraser’s second novel featuring the devious, streetwise and downright ruthless hit woman Rina Walker is dark, twisted and as hard hitting as its protagonist. Set in 60s London, there is a lot of swinging and plenty of gangsters to contend with for the glamorous Rina, as she battles against pimps, killers and generally shady characters in the hunt for the truth behind the disappearance of a number of prostitutes, all of whom work for the same man.
There’s a whiff of old school, Golden Age crime fiction early on when Rina and her girlfriend Lizzie make a new friend at a nightclub opening and promptly follow him to the country manor of a friend, although this quickly returns to the sordid and seedy as the pair encounter orgies, blackmail and general debauchery.
It is this scene and the reckless behaviour Rina displays, which are the only unbelievable aspects of the novel. Whilst Fraser has the dialogue down pat, flawless characterisation and a frankly brilliant way of writing about 60s London that will make you feel as if you are there, it just doesn’t sit well with me that a seasoned contract killer would leave her 14 year old sister alone in London to escape the dangerous men hounding her for one night out. Fraser’s skilled characterisation portrays Rina as fiercely loyal and dedicated to her sister, and as such her carelessness just doesn’t add up.
However, if you can overlook this potential plot flaw then there is a lot on offer here. Threat offers the reader a unique and realistic portrayal of the seedier side of London, and the first person narrative makes for an interesting dynamic, giving the novel the feel of a film script. With more twists and turns than a West Country road this is an exciting, edge of your seat thriller that keeps the reader guessing.
If anything, Threat should be read exclusively as a lesson in how to write lesbians in crime fiction. Rina and Lizzie’s relationship isn’t a plot device, nor is it a fetish or something heralded as weird; it’s just there. And that is something we definitely need more of.
As an exercise in swearing this book packs an equally mighty punch- the first person narrative makes the exquisite dialogue all the more vivid and impactful.
Overall I would definitely recommend you check this out. Leave your preconceptions at the door- Hugh Fraser’s writing is so far removed from my memories of him declaring ‘Good Lord’ at every conceivable moment that it is almost laughable. This is a really different, edgy thriller that makes for an intense read and an enjoyable, fast-paced read.