Broken Bodies by June Hampson

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Broken Bodies by June Hampson

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Category: Crime
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Lesley Mason
Reviewed by Lesley Mason
Summary: The follow-up to Trust Nobody sees Daisy Lane back in Gosport, with a plan to avenge Eddie's death and see that Roy Kemp gets some of what's coming to him. Not for the easily-shocked, a page-turner of a novel that captures the era and weaves a strong visual plot around very believable characters (some of them very real indeed).
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 320 Date: April 2007
Publisher: Orion
ISBN: 978-0752874661

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In a car, in a beech forest clearing, a woman asks a man what he wants her to do. He tells her she's doing great. They do what they do, and then, brutally, he kills her.

The prologue to Broken Bodies hits hard. The crude description of the sexual act, which has nothing to do with love, and the murder that follows it are probably quite enough to put off quite a few readers. This one included.

Which is a real shame - because, whilst the point of the two-page prologue does become evident eventually, it adds nothing to the story and detracts from the more skilful portrayal of the underworld that follows.

Daisy Lane is back. Back in the filthy rain-ridden, sh*t-strewn backstreets of Gosport after the idyll of her white cottage and her young son on the island of Kos. But she's back with a purpose. Her Eddie is dead, and she knows who killed him... and, stuff justice, she wants revenge. She wants to prove that whatever these big-shot, little-shot, one-shot gangsters think they are and they know... they are going to get theirs - from a woman!

All that time sitting in the sun has not been wasted. Daisy has a plan. A long firm job that, if she can get the right help, will make her (and the help) some money but more importantly will get the local gangster some of what he dished out to her Eddie.

Getting the right help proves to be easy enough. There may be no honour among thieves, but there's plenty of it among the so-called low-life that lurks around the edge of criminality: the prostitutes and scamsters and grafters and grifters. People who work hard to earn an honest living, and sometimes even harder to make up the difference with a dishonest one. This is Daisy's background. She came from these people: she has friends who love her and need her. And acquaintances that she needs to keep sweet. And people are always drawn to a common cause whatever their personal motivations.

Set in the "glamour" days of English gangsterism, the mid-1960s, when the Krays ruled London but looked after their Mam... when music was beginning to change the world, but the peace and love were still middle-class daydreams, and drugs were scum-class nightmares... when male homosexuality was a criminal offence... when nightclubs had live music, tables, good food, and folk wore diamonds and evening dress to watch men slaughter each other in the ring, Broken Bodies captures a harsh and brutal world full of vicious people without a twinge of rose-tint. There might have been fewer guns around then, the violence might have been more "controlled" but it was just as imaginative and you really wouldn't want to be at the remotest risk of being on the receiving end of any of it.

This is Daisy's world. After the death of her husband, she'd taken up with Eddie, his brother... a minor-league criminal who'd been taken out by the local lord of the manor Roy Kemp. The police know about Kemp, but - this being the sixties - some-one is in the pay, so little is happening to disturb his lucrative businesses... so long as the kids are protected and few-enough women are disappeared or found beyond salvage.

Kemp, meanwhile, is moving in "higher class" circles. He associates with the Krays, with Freddie Mills, goes to the best clubs and the society weddings and mixes with the celebrity of the day. He worries about Nipper Read and what this guy is going to mean for business. He also looks after his Mam.

One of Hampson's strengths is to mix the fact with the fiction. For the 40-something reader there are names that resonate from half-forgotten headlines; music that echoes from childhood record collections; market places with the smells and shouts and sounds that rang up & down the country for another 20 years or so but fading as they went. For anyone around at the time, even as a child, there is familiarity in much of the background. Having grown up a long way from Gosport and not even on the fringes of the criminal world, it's still easy to picture places and people none-too-different.

The woman should have a little more faith in her own ability. An occasional tendency to use the last detail of the research jars. Do we need to know the precise date on which a specific act was due at a specific venue? Telling us that the Supremes were "wondering where their love had gone" is the way to do it... not to say that "Can't Buy Me Love sung by the Beatles" was blaring out from the café. If the stall-holder turns up Mannfred Mann full blast because they're the local band... we can fill in the gaps and don't need the precise sleeve-notes. If you're showing off by telling the bloke whose hair you've just dyed, he looks like Heathcliffe or Mr Darcy... you wouldn't ruin it by saying "from Wuthering Heights... from Pride & Prejudice" - you'd leave him feeling a prat for not knowing who you're talking about! Not least because if he didn't know, giving him the book titles wouldn't help.

These are quibbles though. They jar, but don't occur frequently enough, to worry about.

Similarly, the sex scenes. Are they necessary? Some of them are crucial... the goings on in parts of Kemp's empire are fundamental to the tale. Interestingly these are much better told, with a keener eye for the pertinent and an avoidance of unwarranted salacity. Others are, frankly, gratuitous and off-putting ~ but again, not enough to drag down the whole package.

Quibbles aside, Broken Bodies is fast-paced tale of a one-woman mission to avenge her husband's death. Like any good woman, Daisy knows she cannot do it alone and she will use whatever means are at her disposal: her brain, her friends, her body, her enemies. At the same time, she will protect those she cares about. The scam is workable, the details believable, the outcome unpredictable.

The back-stories of all the main characters are closely woven to provide motivations and hindrances to each of their actions. They are real people who get on, and don't, and are sometimes taken aback by their friends, and themselves.

It might make you wonder about the relative merits of violence & crime, then and now, but that isn't the point. Get past the unnecessary page or two, gloss over the irritatingly blatant detail, and go with it. The world was just as nasty back then, nastier in many ways, but it's a world to allow yourself to be dragged into for a while... if only to find out who can possibly get away with what... and whether there will be a price to pay.

Surprisingly emotional in places, the book does carry the caveats inherent above: sex features throughout and is generally told (as it is performed) without finesse; foul language is the lingua franca; the brutal and the squalid are not toned down. If any of these offend, the book is not for you.

Broken Bodies is the follow-up to Trust Nobody and one suspects that even if a fortune isn't made from the book sales, there will be a screen-adapter knocking on Ms Hampson's door very soon.

Our thanks to the publishers for sending us this book.

If you enjoy this type of book then you might also like to read Losing You by Nicci French although this is set in a much later period.

June Hampson's Daisy Lane Series in Chronological Order

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susangibbon said:

This is the second novel i have read following Daisy. Hat off to June Hampson i have to say shes as good as Martina Cole if not better. Keep the novels comming! Regards Susan