Something You Are by Hanna Jameson
|Something You Are by Hanna Jameson|
|Reviewer: Robin Stevens|
|Summary: A gritty, high-octane thriller set in the dirty, dangerous London underworld. One to make your heart race.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 352||Date: December 2012|
|Publisher: Head of Zeus|
The title of Something You Are has been taken from a line of Brett Easton Ellis’s American Psycho that asks: ‘Evil. Is it something you are? Or something you do?’ At first, Hanna Jameson’s answer to Ellis’s question seems obvious. She’s created a hyper-violent, supercharged London underworld that’s filthy with sin and death and peopled with junkies, psychopaths and dealers, a place where waking up in the morning doesn’t guarantee you’ll go to sleep again at night, especially not with the same compliment of arms, legs and eyes.
But Jameson’s hero Nick Caruana (‘rhymes with marijuana’) is descended from Phillip Marlowe as well as Patrick Bateman, and while he couldn’t be called a good man in a bad world, he couldn’t easily be called a bad one either. He’s a flawed but essentially loving brother and friend, a thoughtful bloke with white knight impulses who just happens to stamp on people’s arms for a day job. He’s much more than the evil that he does – it’s just that that evil world has sucked him in and refuses to let him go.
Something You Are’s plot outline is fairly standard: the sixteen-year-old daughter of a London arms dealer goes missing and then turns up dead, mutilated and abused. Nic is called in to go where the police can’t, acting as both detective and judge with full remit to deliver corporal punishment when he uncovers the criminal. Along the way, though, he finds himself falling for the girl’s grieving mother, a woman who plays her own twisted emotional games.
This is all stuff that we’ve heard before, but under that basic story there’s more wit and intelligence at work than you tend to find in a typical blood and rage thriller. The world Jameson’s created is engrossing and oddly charming for all its foulness, and the questions she’s asking – about parental love, about the worth of life – are smart and interestingly explored.
Although the mix of addicts, depressives and contract killers Nic meets along his journey towards the truth come from a stock character cabinet, Jameson’s insightful character-building lifts them into something more. Her supporting cast resemble stereotypes, but only in the way that real people do. Touching and sympathetic even as they commit vile actions, I could imagine them vividly, and I even (against my better judgement) found myself wanting to meet them.
Jameson is a smart plotter, although at times her excitement at the story she’s telling runs away with her. She moves at lightning speed, introducing legions of young male characters with similar names until my mind boggled trying to distinguish them all. At times, too, I found Something You Are’s incredible violence difficult to take. In one particularly memorable scene, one character takes a blow-torch to another’s eye and holds it there until the eye pops like a grape. It’s violence with a fantasy sheen to it, yes, but there’s visceral exactness and a rare inventive streak to Jameson’s descriptions that meant I was reading some pages with one hand over my eyes.
Now, let’s deal with the elephant in the room: Jameson is 22. I suspect that this will be used as a stick to beat her with by many people who haven’t actually read the book. They shouldn’t be so quick to judge. Talented young crime writers are nothing new – Margery Allingham wrote her first novel when she was 23 – but with Jameson, the talented is so much more relevant than the young. Jameson’s use of language speaks for her much more eloquently than any comparison could. She writes in turbo-charged shorthand, her fierce, sparse prose sparking off the page. She’s able to evoke a whole scene with a single detail, and she’s got a gift for getting under the skin of her characters.
Admittedly, I could tell that Jameson and I share a generation. Her vision of a seductive secret world beneath our own, peopled by cool, darkly funny characters at war with each other is straight from the collective imagination of those of us who’ve grown up on The Matrix and Harry Potter. But Jameson’s taken those shared fantasies and made them her own, creating a thoughtful, quirky world written in a cool, measured, mature style that will have most young writers – or most writers, full stop – sizzling with jealousy. If this is what she can do now, I can’t wait to see where she goes next.
Is Something You Are perfect? No. Is the fantasy it peddles sometimes ridiculous? Yes. But so what? This is a talented writer having fun with her genre, and doing it in an incredibly assured way. Regardless of her age, Jameson is a great new voice on the British crime fiction scene.
Do you like your crime gangland? Why not try Tequila Sunset by Sam Hawken.
You can read more book reviews or buy Something You Are by Hanna Jameson at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy Something You Are by Hanna Jameson at Amazon.com.
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