Wednesday, April 12, 2017


GUTS FOR GARTERS by Linda Regan (Accent Press, 2015)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

Life’s not easy growing up on the Aviary Estate in South London. Alysha and her mates have survived being abused by people who should have cared for them, their lives ruined by crime and deprivation. Now they’re taking control of the estate so children can grow up safe with real prospects in life.

When a rival gang starts encroaching on their territory, Alysha and the Alley Cats decide to teach them a lesson. The last thing they expect is to find one of their rivals murdered on their patch. The last thing they want is for the police to start sniffing around. But DI Georgia Johnson wants answers. Johnson trusts Alysha – but will she still trust her when she realises her prized informant is leading a gang herself? When another body is found – a teenage girl this time – Alysha decides to frame the evil leader of the rival gang … but he has a few nasty surprises of his own in store for the Alley Cats girls.

Actress and author Linda Regan takes us deep into the gritty world of South London housing estates and teenage gangs in GUTS FOR GARTERS, This is quite an interesting read with some memorable characters. Early on, I struggled a little to settle into the author's style  - there was a lot of telling rather than showing, and a few things didn't quite gel (for me) - but there was enough of a 'I want to know what happens' narrative pull to keep me going, and as the tale progressed I was more engaged.

Regan does a good job evoking the bleakness of life in urban housing estates, the way people's choices are crimped to such an extent that crime seems the most viable option to improve your life, not just for 'bad' or selfish people but those who consider themselves good and care for others too.

That's the case for teenager Alysha and her friends. They want to create a better future for those in their community, so they do the only things they know - becoming their own gang, living by their own rules, and using crime as a tool to get where they want to go. They have good intentions, seemingly, and some sort of code of ethics about what they will and won't do, and who they'll do it too - but from the outside it could seem like they operate like any other violent gang who believes that their wants and their members are more important than other people who 'stand in their way'.

Alysha also secretly acts as an informant for Detective Inspector Georgia Johnson, with both women looking use the other to advance their own interests. DI Johnson faces plenty of obstacles in her career, and has some tough moments of her own in her past. This gets all kinds of complicated when a body turns up, then another, and Alysha tries to steer the police in the direction she and the Alley Cats want, while avoiding her own secrets and crimes getting exposed in the fallout.

This was marketed as the start of an ongoing series, and there's certainly plenty of fodder here with the characters and setting for Regan to play with over the course of more than one book. There were times when I felt that disbelief had to be suspended more than I'd usually like, in order not to pick apart a few things (eg the police being oblivious to what Alysha and her gang were up to, or not doing things which would seem obvious but I guess may have stymied the story, so were skipped).

Regan also taps into the speech patterns and slang of impoverished estate teens, which could divide readers. It potentially gives GUTS FOR GARTERS a sense of authenticity, but could also seem 'affected'. Depending on how engaged you are with the story, it may add flavor or pull you out.

Overall I enjoyed the read, and found myself drawn into the lives of the characters more and more, and caring about what happened to them, as the pages turned. Worth a look.

Craig Sisterson is a lapsed lawyer who writes features for leading magazines and newspapers in several countries. He has interviewed more than 180 crime writers, discussed crime writing onstage at arts and literary festivals in Europe and Australasia, on national radio, has been a judge of the Ned Kelly Awards, and is the Judging Convenor of the Ngaio Marsh Awards. You can follow him on Twitter: @craigsisterson

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