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Mike Atkinson (Nottingham)

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The Great Deception (Bone & Cane 3) (Bone and Cane)
The Great Deception (Bone & Cane 3) (Bone and Cane)
by David Belbin
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Politics, prostitution and power., 30 Dec. 2015
It's been quite a while since David Belbin's previous Bone and Cane novel, but you don't need perfect recall of the first two volumes to pick up on this, the third - and indeed, newcomers to the series could easily start right here. Sarah Bone - a New Labour MP - and Nick Cane - a former drugs offender - are characters with a shared past, but with separate presents which sometimes diverge, and sometimes collide. This time around, they collide more than before, in a story which primarily takes place in the late 1990s, interspersed with flashbacks to the previous three decades that illuminate the main narrative in ways that gradually become more clear, and more startling.

Staging a return from the second book, the third main character is police officer Deborah, who is working undercover as "Chantelle". Under her alter ego, she is dating Nick for the purpose of extracting information on his links to the drugs trade. It's morally compromising work, and she struggles to steer a straight course. Also returning are former teacher Nancy - one of the most memorable characters in the series - whose thirst for drugs has brought her low, and Nick's old friend Andrew Saint, a shrewd operator with suspicious links to the criminal underworld.

Via the flashbacks, we learn more about Sarah's background, and her family's links to previous Labour administrations. Harold Wilson and Jim Callaghan feature, in fictionalised but historically plausible scenes that feel in keeping with their characters.

Belbin's talent for weaving compelling plot lines is showcased to its fullest extent, in a gripping examination of politics, prostitution and power which steadily reveals secrets that its protagonists would rather have kept hidden. The book's details have been well researched, and the world which the author conjures up feels entirely believable. It's a cracking read.

Price: £2.90

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Works both as a foretaste of student life, and as a reminder of it., 18 Sept. 2012
This review is from: Student (Kindle Edition)
Although parts of Student orginated as separately published short stories, it's to David Belbin's credit that these elements have been fully revised and re-worked, then woven into a seamless, novel-shaped format. The story is told through the character of Allison, who we follow from her pre-fresher days, through to the end of her final year. Never one to launch herself into the centre of any social scene, Allison emerges as a complex, somewhat awkward character, and it's this character which fuels the narrative, as much as any external events; we are a long way from Belbin's terse, plot-driven crime fiction here, and consequently there's a welcome, insightful focus on the intricacies of human relationships, both romantic and platonic.

Remarkably, what emerges is a novel that will have something to say to school students, university students and graduates alike. For those who have yet to enter into student life, it offers a glimpse of what lies ahead. For those who are already studying, the fates of the main characters can be compared with the experiences that the reader is currently having. And for those who have already graduated, whether recently or long ago, many aspects of this tale are bound to resonate. In particular, Belbin has taken care not to root the action in too specific a timeframe, allowing all age groups to relate to his themes.

As always in a David Belbin novel, characters are permitted to make their own choices, free from overt authorial judgement. Mistakes are inevitably made, both big and small. Some are barely acknowledged, some are learnt from, while others have heart-wrenching consequences - but just as in real life, it's rarely possible to predict what those consequences might be.

This is an absorbing, affecting read, which gives Belbin an opportunity to explore new areas as a writer. Over twenty years in the making, it was well worth the wait.

What You Don't Know (Bone & Cane 2)
What You Don't Know (Bone & Cane 2)

12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Does for Nottingham what The Wire did for Baltimore?, 28 Dec. 2011
What You Don't Know is the second in David Belbin's Bone & Cane crime series; the first book appeared in 2011 and topped the Kindle charts a couple of times, so there should be a good deal of interest in what Sarah Bone and Nick Cane get up to next.

As with the previous volume, Sarah and Nick don't fit the standard profile of a typical crime-fighting duo. They are former lovers, whose lives have sharply diverged since their younger days. Sarah is now a junior prisons minister in Tony Blair's newly elected government, while Nick is struggling to rebuild his life after a five-year prison sentence for drug dealing. Much as she might like to rekindle their old friendship, Sarah's ministerial position means that she must maintain a careful distance from Nick, for fear of being tainted by association. However, she is able to use her influence to set him up in a new role, working for a drugs advisory project in their home town of Nottingham.

Although the couple rarely meet face-to-face, the continuing connection between them allows Belbin to tell a story which spans all levels of society, from the highest positions of power to the lowest rungs of existence. Although the story is framed as a murder mystery, it also works as a detailed examination of the effect that illegal drugs have on our society, as told from a wide range of perspectives. Hard-core addicts, so-called "casual" users, small-time dealers, big-time distributors, support workers, law enforcers, policy makers: all have their role to play in this tale, which in some ways does for Nottingham what The Wire did for Baltimore. (Except in this case, the story's foundations are rooted in factual reality, namely a corruption scandal which rocked the city in the late Nineties.)

It's a slower-paced affair than its predecessor, with a plot that steadily chips away at the central mystery, while allowing separate but interlinked storylines to unfold. Once again, the characters don't conform to good-guy/bad-guy stereotypes - not least Bone and Cane themselves, whose actions are often far from heroic - but Belbin has a knack for laying bare the reasoning behind their frequently flawed decisions, without ever casting judgement.

The storylines eventually converge into a climax which is genuinely shocking - all the more so, given Belbin's refusal to provide the reader with a reliable moral compass. But although different readers will draw differently weighted conclusions, few will be left in a better position to argue that this country's "war on drugs" has ever been fought effectively.

The Blue in the Air
The Blue in the Air
by Marcello Carlin
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.99

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Incisive, idiosyncratic, bursting with life., 19 July 2011
This review is from: The Blue in the Air (Paperback)
So, why would you want to read a collection of short essays about a bunch of tracks you've mostly never heard of? There are several reasons. Firstly, Marcello Carlin has a way of writing about these tracks - a wildly eclectic selection, ranging from Dorothy Squires to Stockhausen via Britney Spears and Mott The Hoople - in a vividly descriptive way, that instantly has you reaching for YouTube or Spotify to check your reactions against his. Secondly, the range and depth of Carlin's knowledge is unparalleled in contemporary music writing; this is a man who has dedicated his life to the appreciation of music in all its forms. Thirdly, the intensity of Carlin's passion - he truly loves all these tracks, and he wants you to feel the same - lifts The Blue In The Air clear of any reference-book dullness.

And fourthly - and perhaps most crucially - this is a writer who is unafraid of framing his observations within a deeply personal context. As the preface makes clear, these essays were written during a crucial period of change in Carlin's personal life. Widowed several years earlier, with devastating consequences to his state of mind, music became his lifeline, and writing about music became his means of re-connecting with the world. After striking up correspondence with a reader of his pioneering music blog (The Church Of Me), his friendship converted to love, and love to marriage. While waiting for his second wife to join him in the UK from her native Canada, Carlin's formerly bleak worldview brightened, and his new-found sense of joyful redemption and optimism pervades the whole collection. Thus it doesn't take too much work to read between the lines of his text, re-casting it as an extended love letter, and a prayer for a better future. Music can serve no higher purpose, and Carlin's music writing - incisive, idiosyncratic, passionate, and bursting with life - is a glorious reflection of how art can serve life.

Bone and Cane
Bone and Cane

18 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Pacy, plot-driven, absorbing, 14 May 2011
This review is from: Bone and Cane (Kindle Edition)
David Belbin has been writing crime fiction for teenagers for many years. This is his second adult novel, and in many ways it's a natural progression from his teenage work - more so than its equally fine but more "literary" predecessor The Pretender. If you ever read his books as a teenager yourself, then you'll recognise his terse, economic, deceptively simple prose style, and his ability to move a plot constantly forward: building the tension, playing with possibilities and then closing them off again, keeping you constantly guessing.

What's new here is the more adult-oriented approach: grittier themes (sex, politics, pragmatism versus principle) and a more complex interplay between the characters. The two "heroes" - if we can even call them that, as both are flawed characters who sometimes make the wrong choices - are former 1980s left wing activists, whose lives have taken very different paths. One has just come out of prison for dope dealing, while the other is seeking re-election as a Labour MP in what would become the first Blair government in 1997. They are former lovers, whose paths cross again as they become caught up in the messy aftermath of a murder: one way or another, a miscarriage of justice has taken place, but it's not clear whether this happened when the alleged murderer was convicted, or when he was later pardoned.

This isn't just a crime novel; it's also an examination of what happens to young idealists who have been mugged by adult life. It would have been all too easy to paint the Labour MP as a cynical sell-out, but Belbin avoids that well-worn trap. We may not agree with every choice she makes, but we are permitted to understand her motives from her own point of view. The same goes for all the other main characters: the ex-con ex-lover who's now driving taxis on the black economy, the newly pardoned was-he-or-wasn't-he murderer, and the tough single mother (and sister of the murdered cop) who tangles with them both.

It's highly likely that there will be more novels in this series, and it would be fascinating to find out what happens to Bone and Cane next. That said, this novel provides a satisfying ending of its own, as a crescendo of plot twists keep you riveted until the final page.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 2, 2011 7:27 PM BST

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