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by Dreda Say Mitchell
Hodder & Stoughton, July 2009
448 pages
6.99 GBP
ISBN: 0340937114

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

I read the first few chapters of this book and started to feel depressed. Dreda Say Mitchell is one of the few black crime writers around, and her first two books were hard-hitting and rooted firmly in street culture. She was doing what no one else had got anywhere near.

GEEZER GIRLS has the feel of a Martina Cole or Mandasue Heller book where a load of salt-of- the-earth Cockney girls with dodgy pasts manage to win through. Seemingly the only difference with Mitchell is that they're all young and two of them are black. And wow, one's a lesbian …

The plot summary on the blurb doesn't do the first impressions any favours either – girls drawn into life of crime, girls escape clutches of evil geezer, girls think they're free, evil geezer returns … And incidentally, geezer in the UK doesn’t mean quite what it does in the US over here – it's a cocky sort of bloke.

Once I got into the book, though, it turned out to be a rattling good page-turner. Mitchell pulls off the book with great panache and out-Coles Cole. The locations and characters ooze authenticity, and even though I was pretty sure I knew what would happen, there were still plenty of tense moments along the way.

One of Mitchell's strengths is writing ordinary people – those down on their luck, or those doing their best to scratch a living. Here, she has the four girls who have been taken into care being forced to take part in drug dealing, money laundering and gun running before they manage to escape. They're all strong characters with definite attitude.

Ten years down the road we meet them again – but of course their past is bound to catch up with them as they prepare for the wedding of one of their number (the only link I spotted to Mitchell's other books, is the return of Schoolboy from RUNNING HOT, who's due to marry Jackie). They find help, though, from some slightly surprising quarters, as well as relying on their own street-wise ingenuity.

So despite my initial misgivings, I can confirm that GEEZER GIRLS is well worth a read. But I still hope that in some ways it's not the sign of things to come. All our UK lesbian crime writers seem to be writing straight; it would be a shame if one of the few black crime writers was destined to relegate the black characters to supporting roles.

Reviewed by Sharon Wheeler, October 2009

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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