Martina Cole attracts quite a lot of press coverage and her books rocket up the best-seller lists. This is her first published novel, establishing something of a pattern. She will revisit this format in later novels, and will bring the heroine (or is that villain) back in a subsequent book ("Maura's Game").
The story, essentially, follows the changing fortunes of the Ryan family, in particular their only daughter, Maura. When we first meet them, it's 1950, and the Ryan's occupy a cockroach infested slum in London's Notting Hill. Mother is about to give birth to yet another child, all her boys waiting outside the bedroom, her good-for-only-one-thing husband out boozing again. This time it's a girl ... and young Maura will grow up to be loved and spoiled by all her brothers.
She'll also grow up to witness her eldest brother, Michael, become king of London's underworld ... and to eclipse him by becoming its empress! In the process, we follow her trials and tribulations, pains and abuses, romance and loss.
Not a crime novel - and certainly not a whodunit - this is really a family saga, covering half a century of the Ryan siblings' rise through the criminal leagues. In places there are some keen observations of working class life, at times there are some dreadful clichés, cardboard characters, and some very obvious plot lines.
At times it's very obviously a first novel - Martina Cole has learned her craft well in the last dozen years or so and has tightened up her writing. The first half of the book is conveyed in a series of episodic snap-shots of the most significant events in Maura's life: once she begins to enter adulthood and assume a role in the family business, it becomes more focussed on her. Some of the elements are clichés, some extracted from real life crime. But it's a well-paced, engaging book.
This is not, as I say, a crime novel, so don't buy it thinking you'll be trying to work out who the killer is, or whatever. This is a family saga, one which takes a walk on the darker side, and it's an enjoyable, undemanding read.