Sorry, couldn’t think of a witty title for today’s post, so this one does exactly what it says on the tin…this week I’ve been reading a crime novel we were given for the Crime Reading Group. It’s called ‘Breakbeat’, it’s by a local author, Rod Duncan (don’t think I know him though some of you might) and is set in Leicester. Now as you know – for I have often told you so – many of C P Snow’s novels are set in Leicester, including ‘Strangers and Brothers,’ ‘The Search,’ and ‘The Affair’ – but Snow always goes to great lengths NOT to mention the town (as it was then) by name, and to exclude or disguise any actual places, street names and so on. Not so Rod Duncan. He not only mentions a number of times that ‘Breakbeat’ is set in Leicester, he names specific streets and buildings: in fact he describes the locations so accurately that I can picture exactly where his character, Daz, lives; where he sleeps rough after being thrown out; which club he hangs out at, and so on. This adds a whole new dimension to the novel for the local reader: and whereas in reading Rebus places in Edinburgh are described but given fictitious names, here there is a complete congruence between the fictional city and the one I know. Or almost. The only thing that jars in this fictional account of the Leicester riots, is that Daz lives in Highfields – but for some reason Duncan has changed the name to Waterfields. I guess this is for political or possibly legal reasons: however in a scenario that is so precisely described and so accurately named for the local reader, ‘Waterfields’ jars every time you read it.
Still, it’s a good story. It has the authentic feel of someone who has actually experienced life in the underclass rather than just researching it, and the narrative pace is good – not too slow, but not the breakneck speed of a Rankin novel. meaning that I can almost understand the plot first time around. Daz is an inept but likeable petty thief who tries and fails to stay out of trouble. Manipulated and bullied by his landlord, a corrupt policeman and a fence called Patty who fakes her own death, each of whom wants him to be their snitch after the riots, Daz tries to save his own neck and do the right thing as he sees it by trying to protect Patty and the dancers he used to live with, who are the nearest thing he has to a family. A putative relationship with his case-worker at the Job Centre makes a good sub-plot, and the thing builds to a climax in a scene where everyone – criminals both in and outside prison, bent and straight policemen, Patty the fence who is still in her hospital bed, and Daz – is trying to play the others off against each other and get a share of a rather large amount of stolen money. There are regular tropes here, albeit with a twist – a multi-storey car-park and a meat rendering plant where Daz and his girlfriend nearly end up as dog-food; but somehow these tropes don’t seem hackneyed. Rather, they seem as if brought into a different reality – one which is more down-to-earth and closer to home than Rankin’s Edinburgh. Perhaps that’s because I live in Leicester and not Edinburgh; but I suspect it’s more to do with the characters and the writing style.
Anyway, whether or not you live in our fair city, give this a read.