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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 17 October 2012
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
While the publisher's blurb for this book is accurate - a private detective re-opening a twenty year old cold case - it doesn't convey how dark, grim and truly desolate this story is. And yet, somehow, it isn't a depressing read, and is a very gripping one.

If you're the kind of reader who doesn't like the gritty, the grubby, the sordid and the unpleasant then this is definitely one to avoid as, at times, it shows all these things through its characters, without the book itself becoming sleazy. In lots of ways this is both an angry book and a very compassionate one. I don't usually like neat and clean `moral' endings, but I was actually very relieved, given what the characters had been through, that that's what we have here.

So in lots of ways this replicates the conventions of many books in the crime genre: a `cold' case, the stranger in town, the dual-time frame, uncovering dark secrets from the past and so on, and yet they all feel fresh and convincing in Unsworth's hands.

I wasn't sure whether I'd like this - turns out I loved it.
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Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This is a book I didn't expect to like - I don't like books about the seamy side of life, and when I found the dialogue was in Norfolk-speak that should've sealed it. But I have to say, with some surprise, that I loved this book, it was just so incredibly different, with strong characters and a wonderful sense of place and time. Dual time frame - Corrine Woodrow, convicted of a murder in the 80s, and a blow by blow account of teenage life and what led up to it; then the modern story, the endearing detective Sean Ward and journalist Francesca trying to get to the truth. That seamy side is all present - the corrupt police chief is an excellent creation - and I must say I loved every moment. Really full of period atmosphere, and genuinely thrilling.
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on 23 January 2013
For the first time in a long time, I finished a book and started rereading it immediately. Not because it had a tricksy opening to reassess, but to savour the language, having devoured it first time round for plot. This is a mini-masterpiece of UK crime writing. Not just a whodunnit but a whodunwot. Neither victim nor perpetrator are revealed until late into the novel and yet we are hooked, and kept guessing throughout. Into a happy, rundown backwater comp comes Sam, hot from London, having been dragged back to Ernemouth with her mum who has run off with a man half her age. Sam brings discord and suspicion wherever she goes, brewing up divisions and hatreds that run far beyond jostling for queen bee position on the school field.

In Weirdo, the characters are multi-layered and all too real. Even the clearly wicked have their complexities and vulnerabilities. Unsworth creates an intensely vivid atmosphere through location in this tired seaside town with its hatred of outsiders, strangers, weirdos - anyone who deviates from its shiny little norm that is rotten at core. She brings the medieval witch hunt up to date. I'm a sucker for crime and literary novels but they don't often come hand in hand. She keeps pace with the best of them, but never at the expense of subtle, multi-textured language and observation. I can't rate this highly enough. Not read anything else by her yet so am looking forward to the backlist.
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Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I will be rather honest and say from the outset that the book is not kind in its portrayal of the characters or the setting. It is rather bluntly-put and has a grey, gloomy and grim perspective that is cleverly portrayed. I found it a little slow to start off with and had to go back a couple of times in the mistaken belief that I had missed something...

It took a while for me to settle into the style of writing and flow of the book - a short while into the book, I did have doubts as to whether I'd end up forcing myself into finishing it, or skim-reading in order to do so. However, once this had been achieved it rolled along pretty well. Full marks to the author for using a very out-of-the-way, out-of-the-spotlight location, in Norfolk. Makes a real change from something being set in London or the like.

It is a dark and sometimes unpleasant read but it does have a clear sense of intrigue. Worth having a look at, but just be forewarned that it isn't pretty, but that it is fairly clever.
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A private investigator is hired to look into a grisly murder from 20 years past and finds himself up against a closed community reluctant to let their dirty laundry be aired.

So far, so formulaic. This time the locale is an uncanny replica of Blackpool transported to the East Anglian coast (and the "reported accent" sounds a bit forced). The story has twin strands: the events leading up to the murder of a school child, and the investigation twenty years later of an alleged miscarriage of justice. The historical strand is set in the 1980's and focuses on the local youngsters who are in their last years at school and becoming Goths (punks/emo whatever), and a bent local constabulary determined to keep perceived scum like Goths and bikers in check. The music angle is clearly important to the author (a music journalist) with each chapter being titled for an 80's song from Echo & the Bunnymen, Killing Joke and others, but with little obvious link between some of the song titles and the chapter that follows. To some this may add to the verisimilitude, but if you're not a fan of that music it just comes across as a geek reading a list to you.

The pacing is pretty good, with the parallel strands being interwoven well, and there are some points where the revelation of who did what in 2003 is neatly linked to what was occurring in 1983. However, the private investigator (and the local journalist he teams up with) are pretty one-dimensional and sometimes seem to be filling the gaps before the narrative gets back to the 1980's. The violence and sexual exploitation are pretty stock and seem thrown in because that is what the genre expects, rather than to advance the story in any way.

The finale has some neat twists and turns that are thrown together in the last 20-30 pages and which, if used judiciously, could have helped keep the interest at a higher level throughout. It may well have been written with a screenplay in mind, but I'm afraid I found it straight to video.
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VINE VOICEon 1 March 2013
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Connie Woodrow has spent the last 20 years in a mental institution after being convicted of murdering a classmate at the age of 15. When new DNA evidence suggests that there was another person present at the murder scene, Private Investigator Sean Ward is sent to re-examine the case. The book follows two timelines in alternate chapters, 1983 when the murder occurred and 2003 when the case is reopened.

For me the book got off to a slow start and I wasn't sure if it would hold my interest but after the first quarter or so, the pace picked up and I became increasingly engrossed to the point where I just couldn't put it down. I did find the numerous characters a little confusing and thought the written Norfolk dialect didn't really work but apart from that I thorougly enjoyed the book.

Overall this is a very good and cleverly written thriller, its dark and disturbing but a very gripping, unusual and exciting read - recommended.
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VINE VOICEon 6 January 2013
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Really enjoyed this one, but I must say, I found the first quarter of the book a tad slow going. Fortunately I stuck with it (it's rare I give up on books that I start). It might not be everyone's cup of tea for sure, it's bleak and grubby for most of the book, but there is plenty going on.

I liked the 80's obscure music references (including many of the chapter titles: 'Echo Beach', 'She Sells Sanctuary', 'This Is Not A Love Song'), unsurprisingly the author was a writer for Melody Maker and Sounds.

I disliked the Norfolk dialect, which doesn't help the book flow very well when read. (hence marking it down a point)

All in all, a great read if you are into this sort of novel and/or 80's music culture.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 17 September 2012
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
A story told partly in 1983/4 and the present day of 2003/4 in the fictitious Norfolk seaside town of Ernemouth. Twenty years earlier a 15-year-old girl was charged with and convicted of murder. Today we know that there has been some kind of miscarriage of justice, but not only are we as readers unaware of what that injustice might be, we don't even know who was murdered in the first place. All is revealed in the end of course, it's just that this writer takes what I thought was an unnecessarily complicated number of directions getting there.

It's a quite interesting story that is written very well. From a technical perspective Cathi Unsworth is way above average, and clearly takes her time in making sure that every detail is thoroughly explained - particularly with regard to imagery and atmosphere. I couldn't help but think, however, that the story is somewhat over-told, with (arguably) more characters than there needed to be. One of the curiosities is that the supposedly leading character of private investigator Sean Ward hardly shows his face in the chapters leading up to the denouement, and I was left wondering what he actually did in terms of finally cracking this case. I also feel that at least one character too many had some sort of clandestine relationship with another, and in this regard it was again made to be more complex than was perhaps necessary. Even some of the prominent characters are effectively red herrings and fade into insignificance, and at times I found it difficult to keep track of all the many teenagers in the centre or periphery of events back in the 1980s.

In spite of this I liked it, but only just, and if anything it failed to live up to its early promises. There is no doubt in my mind however that Cathi Unsworth is a gifted writer, and I may well take a look at some of her other novels.
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Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Sean Ward has been asked to look into a twenty year old murder case. Corinne Woodrow has been in a secure mental institution for two decades following the murder of a classmate. New DNA tests have revealed that there was someone else present at the murder scene and Ward has been employed by a leading QC to try and find out who the other person was. The murder took place on the coast of Norfolk and Sean finds he is less than welcome when he starts asking awkward questions.

On the surface the police - past and present - are co-operative and give him access to files and point him in the direction of people who knew those involved at the time. Sean, however, feels there is much more that could be said and wonders who he can trust and who is just telling him what he wants to hear. Interleaved with Sean's investigation the story of the murder itself is told together with the events which led up to it. The dour and bleak landscape of the Norfolk coast is almost a character in its own right and the Norfolk dialect is convincing without being incomprehensible.

I thought the characters were well drawn and believable. The unpleasant Len Rivett, the former head of the CID and now retired and the current head of the CID - Dale Smollett - who seems uncomfortable with Sean's enquiry; the local newspaper editor, Francesca, who is keen to help and may know more than she is telling. The characters from the past including Corinne herself with her unpleasant home life and her attempts to escape and the new girl Samantha with her nice girl persona and the less pleasant personality it covers up. Sean himself - battling with his own problems - is a sympathetic character. I also liked the ambivalent Noj with his understanding of the darker side of the story.

The oppressive atmosphere is well done and as the tension mounts in the past and the present I found myself turning the pages faster to find out what really happened. Having lived in Norfolk myself for many years I found the underlying feeling that there are things it is better not to ask about convincing. There are networks of connections and people have allegiances which are not always obvious to the outsider. Society is very inward looking and does not respond well to newcomers prying - and almost any question is seen as prying.

This is a dark story full of many undercurrents of things seen and unseen. Human nature is seen at its worst and at its best. I liked the style and I liked the interleaving of past and present with the tension mounting in both spheres. Some may find the dialect too much but I think it is possible to get used to it as there are no unfamiliar words used it is just the way things are phrased and letters are missed off the end of words. I found the book compelling reading and I will be looking out for other books by this author.
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Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Sean Ward was a detective in the Metropolitan police, when he was gunned down during an operation and forced to leave the job he loved. Now he is a PI, specialising in cold cases and has been sent to provide evidence for an appeal against an indefinite sentence. In 1984, when she was just fifteen, Corinne Woodrow was found guilty of murder; but now, thirty years on, new forensic evidence suggests that there was a phantom accomplice, whose DNA needs to be matched up to a name.

This excellent and atmospheric crime novel alternates between Sean's current investigation and the unfolding events when Corinne was fifteen. Sean is an intelligent and thoughtful hero, whose battles include the pain he still suffers from his injuries. However, this case begins to reawaken something he thought he had lost - his love for his job. Teaming up with Francesca Ryman, the editor of a provincial newspaper who also rediscovers her journalistic ambiton, the two try to discover what happened all those years ago in a seaside town, whose tourist amusements hide the reality beneath the veneer.

This is a fast moving and excellent novel, dark and often bleak, but with characters you care about. As the author swiftly builds the tension, you will find that you are unable to tear yourself away from this book until you get to the end. This is the best of British crime fiction, with a truly dangerous undercurrent and a gripping storyline. Highly recommended.
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