Blood Rush by Helen Black

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Blood Rush by Helen Black

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Category: Crime
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Lesley Mason
Reviewed by Lesley Mason
Summary: Fast paced crime drama that might just make you think twice about the hoodies on the corner… or at least about how/why they came to be there.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 320 Date: April 2011
Publisher: Robinson
ISBN: 978-1849014731

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Books and their covers, we'll never learn will we? In this case I was taken in not by the jacket design which, to be honest, would have had me by-passing it as a cheapo-teeno, but by that sneaky line at the bottom "Author of Damaged Goods". "Oh excellent" I thought, "I enjoyed that". Except, I haven't actually read it. It was another book of the same name, by a completely different author.

On the other hand, I did recognise Helen Black's name and her protagonist (Lilly Valentine) – the one I had read was Dishonour – and just for the record, I gave that one 4 stars too.

Now I should point out that I'm reviewing an advance copy and both design and wording might well change before it hits the shelves (and legally I'm not allowed to quote from the book at all, but that does make reviewing it slightly tricky). That being so, you might wonder why I'm bothering with this rambling intro.

Two reasons.

One: I want to underline the old maxim. Please don't judge a book by its cover. Publishers get it well wrong sometimes.

Two: I want publishers to sit up and take note that sometimes they do their authors a disservice on book jacket design – but of course, they're not to know that unless we tell them. Book reviewers have privileged access in this arena, we get to see them ahead of time on occasion – so if you've got a view: make it known. (I know that some major publishing houses do pre-publication test runs of suggested designs, but you can't really know until you've read the book).

Thanks for the indulgence – on with the review!

Blood Rush is the fourth book from Helen Black in the Lilly Valentine series.

Lilly has had the baby she was expecting in the last book, and daughter Alice is the child from hell. Sweet and angelic with just about anyone other than her mum, she won't sleep at night, is prone to screaming fits and about as disruptive to a previously one-parent, one-child household as a baby could be. Fortunately father Jack (copper, ex-boyfriend, current status indeterminate) is welcome to come and lend a hand whenever he can spare the time. Of course, Alice adores him. Equally fortunately, first-born and now teenage son, Sam, is unbelievably cool about his baby sis. Just to round it off, Lilly and Sam's father are also on speaking and son-sharing terms (and sod his new girlfriend!).

Ah, if only families managed their dysfunction this well in the real world.

So far, so much disbelief suspended.

And that's about as far as you'll be called upon to do so. The rest of the story is frighteningly believable.

This might be Luton rather than London, but think "The Bill". Think the Jasmine Allen estate or the Larkmead or whichever of your own local estates rings most true with those TV constructs. This is the backdrop for Lilly Valentine's latest case.

Our lawyer heroine has sworn off representing 'kids from care' (as just too downright dangerous) and is trying to focus on nice easy divorce litigation. But she's as disorganised as ever. Her latest temp agency secretary didn't last long enough to take her coat off. When she mistakes the next person through the door as a replacement (rather than the client she actually is) she finds herself drawn back into the dark world of damaged children and the harm they go on to cause.

Malaya was on her jump in. A simple task: get into the neighbouring crew's territory, do a bit of painting, leave your mark and get out. An initiation rite where no-one gets hurt. Unless you get caught.

Malaya got caught, and got hurt, real bad.

Lilly Valentine was right when she said she didn't want to do this stuff anymore. It really doesn't fit with her quaint cottage, up-market friends, loving (if unconventional) family. But, you don't always get what you want, and sometimes you do what you need to do.

What Lilly needs to do is help Tanisha. Fifteen years old, in a stable(ish) foster home, and pregnant, Tanisha was there when Malaya was brought down. She saw what happened, according to a witness she was directly involved, but that witness might just have an agenda of her own.

A cross-story involves a pretty little rich boy, public school gay and scared to admit it, and his descent into the dark shiney alleyways of crystal meth. While not immediately relevant and crossing in a way that might seem slightly contrived, it does give Black an angle to file down the glamour of the gang world, to terminally roughen the edges into reality.

This is the gangsta world, as played out on the streets of Britain. Bunches of kids who don't know how lucky they are, in a world where adults don't know (don't want to know, haven't got time to know) what they have to deal with, trying to sort it for themselves. Girl gangs in the UK are not yet anywhere near the issue they are in some parts of the world, but believe me, we're working on catching up. Sadly. Helen Black uses a simple story to try to make us all think about this. When I said this looked like a cheapo-teeno book that I'd normally have ignored, maybe that's deliberate. Maybe I'm not the target audience. Maybe this should be read by the young girls on the edges, those who haven't yet jumped one way or the other.

As ever, Black has produced a gripping tale of crime and judgement (not necessarily punishment). She has an ear for street language and a sharp insight into the toughness and vulnerability of children, gender and class notwithstanding. Her take on police and court procedures ring true enough. The general pace is fast, the tension and twists work when they need to. It is by turns gentle, nasty, flippant, violent, thought-provoking and despair-inducing. The touches of humour are black, when they're not truly bleak, but they are there.

In common with the previous installment, Blood Rush is both an enjoyable romp of a crime thriller and a serious indictment of modern society, with clear side-swipes at issues of class and racial integration (or lack of). It has none of the structural weakness of the previous episode and the much more straightforward approach serves the subject matter well.

Enjoy the original now – it's only a matter of time before Lilly Valentine makes it to the small screen.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

Further reading suggestion: You might want to get acquainted with LV in the previous episode, or if you want another feisty female lead this time in the 1960s underworld, check out that other Damaged Goods by June Hampson.

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