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by Minette Walters
Macmillan, August 2001
16.99 GBP
ISBN: 0333907485

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

A paedophile whom police believe is a minimal threat to the community is relocated in Bassindale Housing Estate, the area its residents call Acid Row. When a callous health worker taunts one of the residents that the paedophile might get her children, she decides to organize a march to protest. Acid Row is a disaster waiting to happen, with poor literacy, endemic drug use, and fights commonplace. There are teenage boys with nothing to do but hang together, do drugs, and threaten other members of the community. The Estate was poorly designed. There were only four

entrances and when those four were blocked, the residents were trapped inside and everyone else trapped outside.

When a ten year old girl goes missing from a neighboring town, the recipe for disaster is complete. Rumors fly that the girl has been seen in Acid Row and that two reclusive men are paedophiles and have taken her to their house. The march coalesces with gangs of teenage boys itching for violence. The police cannot get in to the estate because all the entrances are barricaded. Meanwhile they are carrying on their own search for the little girl which yields a surprising denouement.

This novel asks some hard questions about modern society. Is it wise to coop up all the "losers" of society in the same housing estate? What about the rest of us who do not want any of them "in our back yards?" Is Meganís Law a good idea? In other words should the names of all sex offenders be made public along with their addresses? Or should they have the right to privacy? And what about vigilante action against those the community believes are criminals? Is it ever justified?

At first none of the characters are especially likable, with the possible exception of a black ex-convict who becomes a hero despite himself. At first there really are no heroes, only those stirring the crowd up or those frightened and huddled inside their homes. But eventually the most unlikely people emerge as heroes, reaffirming the truth that all of us can make a difference if we just will.

This book also demonstrates what happens in a closed society, one which is both physically and emotionally set apart. These people truly believed that ěthere was one set of rules for Acid Row and another for everyone else.î They feared outsiders, envied them, and resented them. In turn those who had to work in Acid Row, the policewoman, the health worker, despised and feared their clients and left them in no doubt of how they felt. These feelings of contempt fed the paranoia of the residents.

Ms. Walters has once again impaled humanity upon a slide and given it to us so we can study it, see the faults, the evils, and the courage and heroism that exist. This is not a book I am going to soon forget because it is a book about me and about all of us.

Reviewed by Sally A. Fellows, December 2001

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