Monday, September 30, 2013

Review of The Riot by Laura Wilson (Quercus, 2013)

August 1958 and DI Stratton has moved from the West End to Notting Hill, one of the poorest neighbourhoods in London.  Over the previous decade many Caribbean migrants have made the locale their new home and racial tension is high, often tipping over into violence.  For Danny Perlmann, a Polish refugee and holocaust survivor, the area represents a business opportunity.  He’s been building up a property folio, buying and subdividing houses and renting them to anyone who wants them regardless of colour or occupation, including prostitutes.  When Perlmann’s civil minded rent collector is murdered, Stratton is assigned the case.  Not long after one of Perlmann’s renters, a black man that the locals think is dating a white woman, is stabbed to death on the street.  Whilst upper class do-gooders try to keep the lid on the simmering cauldron, Stratton tries to solve both murders before the place erupts into riots and running battles.

The strengths of The Riot are the characterisation, sense of place and time, and social contextualisation.  DI Stratton is a strong and interesting lead and the book is full of a diverse set of well defined and vividly penned characters.  There is a strong sense of London in the late 1950s as the social mix of some neighbourhoods start to change, and Wilson does a good job at conveying the social realities of working class life and the tensions around change.  Indeed, the story works well to weave issues of race (both Black and Jewish) and gender through class and capital.  And the plot is intriguing and quite complex.  That all said, the story is let down a little by its pacing and balance.  Prior to ‘the riot’ the storytelling is quite slow and there is a lot of unneeded detail.  For example, on his initial visit to the house in which a murder occurred Stratton laboriously meets everyone in the building and others nearby, most of whom never reappear in the book and who tell him little of importance.  After ‘the riot’ things speed up somewhat, but there’s sometimes not enough fleshing out or reveal as to what is going on, especially with respect to the Perlmann’s empire.  Overall, an interesting and entertaining story that’s nicely contextualised.

1 comment:

Margot Kinberg said...

Rob - It sounds like a solid read, and I do like novels with a strong sense of history and atmosphere. Thanks for the review.