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by Mark Sanderson
HarperCollins, January 2010
343 pages
12.99 GBP
ISBN: 0007296797

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

I have experienced a surfeit of novels involving the supernatural in the past several months, so that when I read the beginning of the Foreword, a diary extract reading "Friday, 18 December, 1936. I went to my funeral this morning!"-- I muttered "Oh, not again!," but I needn't have worried. Johnny Steadman, the protagonist, is a reporter who has simulated his own death - or, rather, has not reported to anyone who might care that he has not been killed. He goes undercover to try to identify the murderer of a young rent boy, with whose corpse he became too closely acquainted with whilst in a refrigerator. Mind, this was after he had been nearly incinerated. Obviously the gods governing his fate have a sense of humour.

Steadman receives a tip that a policeman from Snow Hill station has been killed. He attempts to verify the story, asking both Inspector Rotherforth of that nick, as well as his best friend PC Matt Turner what they know of the circumstances, but both deny that such a death has occurred.

Steadman has a journalistic rival, Henry Simkins, although that reporter would scarcely view the lower class man as a competitor, but he also seems unaware of any such death.

Lizzie, still Johnny's love object, though she is married to Matt, confides in Johnny that she is pregnant, but hasn't yet told her husband. Despite her pregnancy, she is deeply troubled because Matt has been having nightmares refusing to divulge their cause. To make matters worse, Matt has been forced to sleep at the station more frequently because of the juxtaposition of his shifts.

Driven to aid his friend, Johnny investigates only to find himself threatened by those complicit in the corruption he perhaps would uncover.

The rapes and murders of the plot may actually be founded on fact. There was an Inspector at Snow Hill whose tastes ran along the lines described here and he did, indeed, fulfil them as indicated in this fictionalized account. Sanderson provides an intriguing glimpse of London in the nineteen-thirties, especially in regard to the attitudes of the period toward homosexuality. A warning, however - there are several graphic scenes that some readers may find off-putting.

Reviewed by Denise Pickles, January 2010

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