Many years ago I listened to the audio version of Dangerous Lady and quite liked it. Since then I hadn’t touched another Martina Cole novel but after reading an interview with the author I decided to give her books another go. I’m very happy that I started with The Ladykiller, as it is one of the best crime thrillers I’ve ever read. The book is about the criminal underworld in the East End where violence, prostitution, sex shops, massage parlours, hired thugs, bent coppers and paedophiles are a part of ordinary life. I know, it all sounds pretty heavy, and believe me the book is not what you would call light-hearted, but it is written with a such a down-to-earth style and with such realism and psychological insight that it is very enjoyable and exciting to read. Martina Cole is an amazing storyteller, and knows how to keep the reader hooked all the way through.
The novel starts by focussing on George Markham, an abused boy who has turned into an abusive man. George is heavily into sadomasochism and he has started to turn his violent fantasies into real-life crimes by raping and murdering women. One of these women is Mandy Kelly, the daughter of London hard man Patrick Kelly. Patrick will stop at nothing to track down her murderer and bring him to his kind of rough justice.
At the same time, the serial rapist / murderer is being hunted by DI Kate Burrows and her police team. Kate is a woman with a wayward daughter and an ex-husband who has breezed in and out of her life too many times. The emotional heart of the novel lies with Kate and Patrick, who are on opposite sides of the legal fence but who grow to love each other. Their relationship is rocky, passionate and controversial. I absolutely adored the fact that this book included such an interesting love story. In another author’s hands it could have come across as ridiculous but Martina Cole writes it perfectly.
As a female reader, I found myself absolutely falling for Patrick Kelly whilst at the same time aghast about his criminal activities and penchant for young women (but over eighteen years old!) when not in a relationship. You can see how Patrick is the result of his poverty-stricken upbringing – he did what he had to in order to survive. Everything that makes him attractive – his strength, confidence and power – is also what makes him such a successful villain. Kate is also a really strong and interesting character, and I liked the way she stood up to Patrick and didn’t give in to her principles in order to meet his, such as when she walked out of an illegal boxing match that Patrick wanted to see.
The book is also great because every scene seems so authentic. You become immersed in a world where women are ‘birds’ and ‘skirts’ (I know, I know, so chauvinistic – but it’s part of the culture) and police officers are the ‘Old Bill’ and ‘filth’. This book is certainly not politically correct, but it is better for it. Overall, I would recommend this book to people who like crime novels and aren’t offended easily by violence, bad language and sexploitation! This novel is a wonderful guilty pleasure.