This is a really unusual novel and probably one I wouldn’t have found in the course of my usual reading choices. I’m really glad I chose to give it a try. Written almost completely like a stream of consciousness, this is a novel that feels very relevant. The events feel entirely real, probably because they echo the murder of teenager Stephen Lawrence. Young, black teenager Eldine Matthews is murdered at a South London bus stop. The racist gang, L Troop, who are responsible for the killing, escape justice. Now, twenty years later, the leaders of the gang are untouchable by the law. Through years of police corruption and intimidating witnesses, they have carried on with their violence. However, even twenty years later, Eldine’s murder is not forgotten. His story is once again moving through the communities of south London. The blurb describes L Troop’s characters as ‘rambunctious dandies and enchanting thugs’ and there is something very interesting about them. Journalist Carl Hyatt wants to get to the truth, but knows that it will mean challenging Mulhall, the secret kingpin of L Troop and defender of Eldine’s killers. This will put everything and everyone he loves on the line.
Hyatt is a washed up journalist, disgraced after being prosecuted for libelling Mulhall. He is now working for the local free paper The Chronicle, which is a career dead-end. As whispers start to reach him of corruption, and the disappearance of a key witness, possibly orchestrated by Michael Mulhall. He pulls together an unlikely band of brothers: Victor Hanley, a criminal defence lawyer; the lawyer’s minder; a one-eyed comic; and a rent boy he happened to interview for the paper. They bounce off each other well and seem determined to achieve what the Criminal Justice System failed to do twenty years ago; get justice for Eldine Matthews and his family. Their enthusiasm and energy carry them forwards, but the closer they get, the less distance there is between their loved ones and a ruthless gangster.
I loved Nath’s depiction of London. It is edgy, vibrant and full of unusual characters and colour. It gave me a sense of 18th Century novels like Moll Flanders, because there’s a bawdy element to the language and a similarity in the various settings of bars, brothels and other disreputable establishments. The language of the characters is unusual too, they are unexpectedly erudite and articulate. Nath explores the issue of race, breaking it into three strands; individual, institutionalised and societal. He also tackles weighty subjects like justice, revenge, homophobia and religion, but it never feels worthy. These subjects are simply introduced through characters interacting with each other. The most compelling characters for me being Mulhall with his darkly magnetic personality and terrible hold on the community, and rent boy Donna Juan who could easily be the central character of his own book. Despite the dark subject matter there’s a strange exuberance about the novel, and it’s those contradictions, both in character and tone that kept me reading. The best thing we can say about a book is that it will stay with us and make us think. With this book Michael Nath has managed to do both.
Thank you to Quercus and NetGalley for my ARC of this novel.