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4.0 out of 5 stars
The Singer
Format: Paperback|Change

on 21 October 2013
Cathi Unsworth came to my attention as an Amazon suggested read after I bought a Jake Arnott book and the connection is a good one: she has the same ability to create an authentic period feel. One star deducted for the slightly lame mystery story around which the book is constructed, but that's not the primary point of Unsworth's writing: the book is really about the late 70s/early 80s music scene, as the punk explosion evolved into something more substantial - the fashions, the gigs, the music press (Unsworth's experience as a music journalist is what gives her work its authentic feel). I like the way each character is based on one or more recognisable real-life figures, as if the author is setting us a puzzle to tick them off as an amusing side-plot. If you are nostaligic for that era you will thoroughly enjoy this.
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on 16 October 2014
Starts powerfully with some good, vivid contextualisation of the era, and has some interesting characters, but gets a bit silly towards the end, with a final reveal that really does make little sense. The plot relies on us swallowing rather a lot of red herrings, which turn out to be simply false, though they helped chug the plot along. The inaccuracies are a bit less forgivable. Richey Edwards is repeatedly referred to as Richie Manic.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 13 October 2013
David Peace, on the back cover, describes The Singer as "the Great Punk Novel". As a man who is passionate about music, and lived through, and loved, the punk era, this augured very well.

The book is firmly based within the UK punk, and post-punk eras, so plenty of real bands and songs feature in the story. Part of the fun of the book, for those steeped in the musical history of the era, is trying to work out who Cathi Unsworth modelled some of the fictional characters and bands on. For example there's a photographer who appears to be a combination of Kevin Cummings and Anton Corbijn, and one of the main bands draws heavily on 1980s indie favourites The Cocteau Twins, whilst another has elements of The Birthday Party, amongst others.

At first The Singer felt enjoyable if a little hackneyed, however as the story progressed, flipping between the early 2000s and the late 1970s/early 1980s, it became progressively more compelling, and by the end I was racing through the book's 450 pages keen to find out how it all ended.

A strength of the book is the range of diverse and distinctive characters, all of whom, to one degree or another are looking back at the past, many damaged by their personal histories, and bring their own interpretation of what happened and why.

Cathi Unsworth evokes the punk era very powerfully and also convincingly places the tale in a range of places which include Camden, Portobello Road, Little Venice, Stoke Newington, Pigalle, Montmartre, and Bairro Alto. I know all of these places and she does a great job of describing each location.

Ultimately The Singer is a genre piece, and part of the grand tradition of crime fiction, although that said the book's conclusion owes more to gothic horror. Cathi Unsworth's dark tale convincingly evokes the punk era (and early 2000s) via an exciting, original and unexpected story.

After I'd finished I reflected on some of the more implausible aspects of the story, and how some of the writing felt rushed, but to dwell on that is to downplay the book's many strengths. This was a great read, my first book by Cathi Unsworth, and not my last. I will be reading more very soon. 4/5
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on 23 September 2013
Blood Truth are a four-piece band working anarcho-punk in the early 1980s. The enigmatic lead singer, Vincent Smith, disappears after the apparent suicide of Sylvana, his wife and lead singer of the Mood Violets. Finis Blood Truth. Eddie Bracknell, magazine hack, goes on his trail in 2002. The book combines attempts to track down the band and their associates, along with narratives from the time itself. It details dark and licentious goings on in the rock scene, exploitation and greed to the fore. The characters must be based on real life "artists"! A lot of the gossip the author hints you feel is probably true. The book is a great putdowns of those enormous egos. It also has a dark ending, for which it is worth holding you breath.
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on 26 July 2008
Who and why should you read this book?

Anyone with a healthy interest in Punk Rock and/or Post Punk - and/or music in general
Anyone with a love for London
Anyone who appreciates Romans Noirs (crime stories that go that extra deeper into exploring the motivations and social reasons behind the crime story, and also explore the real consequences on the vitims, on top of the usual detective crime solving).
Rock HEROES myth-making

BUT the above just does not do justice to this brilliant book. Ms. Unsworth had already put together a more than pleasant, original and interesting read in "The Not Knowing", her first offering, but with "The Singer" she really now has come into a fully fledged writer with attitude.

With a perfectly plotted story, the format is a risky but surprisingly addictive structure. Each chapter alternates between the 70/80s and the 00's and whilst you are always left wanting for more of each chapter's story, you immediately get hooked back into the next decade, eagerly continuing where you had been left last after just a few sentences.

All characters, particularly the female characters, have a genuine depth to them, and the music industry and Punk and Post-Punk period background are as convincing as a music journalist of Ms. Unsworth's credentials will have the reader expect.

If the devil is the details, in this case the brilliance is in the details, with locations such as Stoke newington, Camden, Portobello Road, Montmartre and Pigalle in Paris and Lisbon very rightfully described as the last western European outpost of real interest (I kep saying to everyone and their mums to go to Lisbon - I went there 7 times myself so far), giving a rich, current and sometimes historical coloured detail to the overall story.

This is a genuinely cracking read, with both depth and attitude aplenty. Thank you very much Ms. Unsworth and please come up with more.
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on 8 August 2008
This well-written book is set in two eras: the punk era (late seventies, early eighties) and the present (2001-2002).

The young journalist Eddie wants to dig up the story about the band Blood Truth and write a book about it. He gets a lot of help from his photographer friend Gavin who knew the band back from the good old days.

What makes the story extra interesting is that the singer (Vince Smith) of Blood Truth is said to have disappeared. A lot of people are blaming his girlfriend Sylvana for the break-up of the band. Eddie goes on a mission to find out the truth behind it all. He does interviews with the remaining band members plus other people related to the band. Doing the interviews in bars and coming home drunk and late results in him losing his long time girlfriend. Something that also disappoints his parents. But Eddie is determined to prove everyone wrong by finishing the book about Blood Truth.

And Eddie offers a lot. He carries on working on the book despite the threats he receives. He even ends up sleeping with an old punk belladonna. Finally he's going on a trip to Lisbon where the rumour says Vince is hanging out. But it might be a reason for Vince not wanting to be found ...

The end is the absolutely best part of the book. It's so unexpected and twisted. Where many good books fall on a weak ending this book is worth hanging on to - you'll get rewarded in the last chapter!

The reason I'm not giving the book five stars is that a lot of the descriptions from the punk era feel a bit cliché and written about before. No one can copy the story about Sid & Nancy. I don't think the writer is trying to do this, but some of the chapters could do with some more developing. But if you love the punk era and can't get enough of it - this book is for you.
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on 30 July 2008
A gripping page-turner that leads you into the brutal world of punk rock. The structure of the book - although already seen in Jonathan Coe's novels - allows for a regular suspense as two different point of views at two different time periods combine, creating deep characters and forcing the reader to read on until sated or exhausted - in a strangely similar fashion as some of the addictive intoxications evoked in the book. This is not only a great mystery novel, or a novel-about-the-punk-rock-years (a lazy marketing strategy), this is mainly a brilliantly written book, with a flourish of well-portrayed and powerful characters, complex structure and some very sombre passages,especially those involving elusive prince of darkness Vince, a mix of Rimbaud and Jim Morrison. But it is true that one of main achievements of Cathi Unsworth, a rock critic herself, is to leave you with a sense of waste and no illusions about the world of rock and roll, exposing the cynical motives of many of the scroungers and wolves who got involved in the punk-rock movement, those with artistic talent ending up as victims. A disenchanted novel too.
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on 25 February 2018
I re-read this great story of Cathi Unsworth’s recently. I was immediately transported back to a time in my life when music and fashion were everything and all things seemed possible. Dark at times but compelling and as unputdownable as ever!
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 12 April 2009
I'm not sure this if this is quite the "great punk novel" it's been blurbed as, but it certainly is a page-turner of a story that flirts with the crime genre and is partially set amidst England's punk and post-punk music scene of the late '70s and early '80s. The story revolves around Eddie, a 30ish slacker freelance journalist with a serious alcohol problem and few prospects beyond the next writing gig. We meet him in 2001 in the midst of a steady downward slide, when he comes up with the idea of writing a book about a forgotten band that disintegrated at the height of its popularity in 1981. What makes the story particularly compelling is that the band's singer disappeared just after his wife committed suicide, leaving a tantalizing mystery for Eddie to write about.

And thus Eddie is off, calling contacts, interviewing the former band members, managers, friends, etc. in an attempt to piece together the story of what all went wrong. His contemporary research alternates with flashbacks to the formation of the band and it's brief history. This is a sensible cut and paste technique that keeps either era from getting stale, while making the connections between the two periods stand out. It also allows the author to build in a number of cliffhanger chapter endings that keep the pages turning at a fast and furious pace. It's an awfully compelling read, as Eddie slowly gathers more and more information, and sorts through the myths, lies, and nostalgia to get at what really happened back then.

However, it's also pretty obvious that the singer is still alive and that the plot is all building up to Eddie's discovery of him, and when that does happen, it's a little anti-climactic. It's also somewhat implausible that no one would have learned where he was, especially in the aftermath of his wife's death. But you just kind of have to go with it. Eddie is also a little bit too naive, and it's equally obvious to the reader that there is someone working subtly against him, and that person's identity isn't too hard to guess (although impossible to confirm until the end). Fortunately, the rest of the characters from both periods are pretty well drawn, and it's nice to read a novel based in the music world that has interesting female characters.

On the whole, it's a pretty decent read if you're interested in the English music scene of the late '70s and early '80s, others may not find much to connect with. Unsworth is a music journalist, and she's got that angle pretty well covered. The missing persons case is reasonably well done, as Eddie pieces things together and enlists the help of a continental op. Some of the subplots aren't as successful, especially his relationship with his girlfriend of 10 years. Ultimately, I enjoyed the book (until the very end), but I can't think of very many friends I would recommend it to.
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on 26 January 2008
This gripping novel is an intoxicating, heady brew of sex, drugs & rock n roll, detective story, strong characters and an exhilerating evocation of punk and its aftermath. Read it!
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