Ruthless – Jessie Keane

How are we all? Refreshed? Did we enjoy the summer?

Crime Thriller Fella is happy to be back, excited to be at his desk, basking in the late summer sun, and returns with a review of a perfect summer book, featuring ladies with balls of brass and their strong and silent men.

Unknown-1Get your laughing gear around the blurb for Jessie Keane‘s Ruthless:

She thought she’d seen the back of the Delaneys. How wrong could she be. . .

Annie Carter should have demanded to see their bodies lying on a slab in the morgue, but she really believed the Delaney twins were gone from her life for good. Now sinister things are happening around her and Annie Carter is led to one terrifying conclusion: her bitter enemies, the Delaney twins, didn’t die all those years ago. They’re back and they want her, and her family, dead.

This isn’t the first time someone has made an attempt on her life, yet she’s determined to make it the last. Nobody threatens Annie Carter and lives to tell the tale . . .

Now the eagle-eyed of you may just surmise from that blurb that this isn’t Keane’s first Carter book. It’s the fifth, I think, and the first I’ve read. And by god it was a hell of a lot of fun. I don’t read enough fun novels – somehow they all end up being kind of intense and serious, them mostly involving gruesome crime and all – and Ruthless was a welcome change of pace.

With her Carter novels and stand-alones, her tales of strong women and deeply-tanned gangsters – you sense a lot of chest-hair and medallions beneath the silk shirts; on the men, at least – Keane has carved out her own place in the genre. Annie, on-off husband Max, friend Dolly and the rest of Annie’s bickering brood – she’s got some right mardy relatives – are the latest in a long line of loveable British gangster archetypes. The soapy thrills are delivered with a deadly calibration.

For new readers, Keane smoothly blends in her heroine’s tumultuous backstory, so that new readers don’t get the sense that they’re arriving late to the party. Nightclub owner Annie is a force of nature, as tough as old boots. She storms into the Ritz on the first page, fully-formed, wearing a face like thunder and shoulder pads ‘out to here.’ But despite her brassy front, she’s vulnerable in affairs of the heart, and the scenes with her estranged geezer husband Max are funny and sweet.

It’s the return of a deranged nemesis – Orla Delaney – that motors the action and, curiously, Annie is sidelined in her own story for periods. With her heroine getting on in years – the book mostly takes place in the late 80s, and I think Annie’s been knocking around since the 60s — I’m sensing a changing of the guard here.

Could Annie’s ugly duckling daughter Layla, hidden away for her own safety in a lapdancing club (naturally), be learning lessons of glamour and love from the girls who work there? And what of the unrequited love between Layla and Annie’s stepson, smooth mafioso Alberto Barolli – ‘golden, beautiful, powerful and deadly Alberto’ – who’s getting fingered by the FBI, where on earth will that all lead?*

It’s all a bit barmy: part crime novel, part family-saga – a kind of Dynasty with knuckledusters – but Ruthless is slick and funny and polished. Sure, it’s a formula, but Keane knows just what her readers want in her nostalgic tales of gals and gangsters, nightclubs and toerags, and she delivers the goods as nimbly as a cat across a fence top.

What I Liked: Annie’s a businesswoman with a string of clubs to her name, but it’s affairs of the heart that propel the story. Keane’s antagonists want revenge against Annie by targeting the people she loves the most – her family. It makes it very personal and very nasty for Annie. And the return of her ex-husband – ‘fit lean body, black hair, dark tan’ – makes the situation an emotional minefield. If you’re going to write a story, make sure your protagonist is hit where it hurts the most.

I’m delighted to say Jessie agreed to one of Crime Thriller Fella’s Intel interviews — so look out for that very soon!

Thanks to Cecilia Keating at Midas PR for the review copy of Ruthless.

*Calm down, people, it’s not like they’re related by blood.

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