Monday, March 5, 2018

Review: MALICE

MALICE by Hugh Fraser (Urbane Publications, 2017)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

London 1964. Gang warfare is breaking out and Rina Walker's struggle to survive amid the battles and betrayals of a gruesome cast of racketeers and gangsters requires all her considerable skills as an assassin. 

Playing one side off against the other to protect those she loves, Rina is caught in a deadly game of cat and mouse where her life is just one of many at stake… 

Many crime-lovers may know of Hugh Fraser from his long-running role as Captain Hastings in the massively popular television adaptation of Agatha Christie's Poirot. Like Dr Watson in the Sherlock Holmes tales, Hastings is the chronicler of Poirot's sleuthing adventures, the surrogate for the reader whose viewpoint gets us alongside the eccentric genius of a detective.

Interestingly, perhaps due to the strength and popularity of Fraser's adroit performances, Hastings actually appears in far more of the TV adaptations than he did in the original novels.

Given Fraser so epitomizes the Golden Age era of murder mystery writing in his most well-known screen role, some readers may be shocked to see his own crime writing is about as far away from Agatha Christie that you could get. There are no sedate country houses or intellectually minded sleuths puzzling over a murder before revealing the culprit to the gathered suspects.

Instead, Fraser's Rina Walker series is urban, violent, sexy, and full of action and coarse language. What Fraser does share with Christie is he knows how to tell a good story that draws you and and keeps you turning the pages. He's also created a memorable central character.

Rina Walker is a young lesbian working as a contract killer for various gangsters in 1960s London. She had a troubled childhood, and is trying to do the right thing by her younger sister, while navigating the seamy backstreets and internal politics of her gangland paymasters. Despite the violence of her job, Fraser has us immediately alongside Rina Walker, and empathising with her.

For want of a better phrase, Rina's a contract killer with a heart of gold. She can capably handle herself against the muscle and misogynists in her world, and questions herself and what she is doing. She wants to save the innocent and put down the guilty. While getting paid along the way (so she can help her sister have a better life, and avoid the choices that Rina and other family members made).

MALICE, the third in the series, is just a really fun, fast read. I tore through it, Rina is a fascinating character to follow as she navigates London and beyond in the swinging '60s. Fraser isn't afraid of confronting some tough and brutal issues in his books, particularly the pressures and prejudices (and worse) faced by women. There's tonnes of action to keep the pages purring, and it's great to see kick-ass female characters that can not only match but better the tough guys of crime fiction.

Perhaps not one for the ardent cosy fans, but MALICE is a slicky told gangland thriller that many other crimelovers could enjoy. I for one won't forget Rina Walker anytime soon. 

Craig Sisterson is a lapsed lawyer who writes features for newspapers and magazines in several countries. In recent years he has interviewed 200 crime writers, discussed the genre onstage at books festivals on three continents, on national radio and popular podcasts, and has been a judge of the Ned Kelly Awards, the McIlvanney Prize, and is the founder of the Ngaio Marsh Awards. You can heckle him on Twitter: @craigsisterson

No comments:

Post a Comment