Ben Richards' third novel A Sweetheart Deal
is another intelligent and assured novel of life at the sharp end of contemporary London.
Mel Holloway is a committed trade union worker, asked to represent a union member who has accidentally killed a victim of a major train crash. Caught up in a political power struggle around the case, Mel is also dealing with the stress of her personal life. Her boyfriend, Patrick, is a former musician struck down by hepatitis, leaving him making forlorn cracks at Mel and the TV along with his dysfunctional alcoholic sidekick Jim. Deeply committed to Patrick, Mel also feels "a cruel tension, a bitter conflict; her unquestionable loyalty and love, her dislike of trauma and upheaval, all of this struggling with the pervasive and universal message--the secret, shameful, insistent exigencies of desire". Then Lily Forrester steps into Mel's life. The widow of the train crash victim accidentally killed by Mel's client, Lily becomes a magnet for Mel and her frustrations at work and home. As the two women are drawn closer together, a complex story of political intrigue and union betrayal plays itself out against the backdrop of an aggressive and uncompromising London.
Richards, who has already drawn favourable comparisons with Will Self and Nick Hornby for his gritty and pacy novels Don't Step on the Lines and The Silver River, has written a tough but compassionate novel, with a refreshing political conscience. --Jerry Brotton
'Richards, with three London novels behind him, writes with a political bite that newcomers to the genre lack' Guardian
'A refreshing change... A clever study of relationships and, apart from anything else, it all gets a bit sexual in the end' Later magazine
'Compassionately depicted by Richards [Mel and Lily's] developing friendship highlights the conflict and passion of human relations' Times
'Tender and compassionate... An assured and confident writer... A Sweetheart Deal is a story of loss and longing drawn against the backdrop of modern London. Unpredictable, surprising, but never merely experimental, Richards writes with rare elegance and creates characters with whom the reader has both empathy and loathing' Yorkshire Post
`[A] dramatic page-turner of a contemporary London novel... Ben Richards's dialogue is electric and the range of his characters is outstanding... a truly rich novel painted on a large canvas' Observer