This is Annie Hauxwell’s first book and, true to crime novel tradition, she has a hero with a difference. Catherine Berlin (known throughout as ‘Berlin’) is a heroin addict. She is also a private investigator for the Consumer Affairs Branch of the Financial Services Agency.
Her job is dealing with illegal loan sharks who charge inordinate amounts of interest to desperate clients and are happy to carry out unspeakable threats unless they pay up.
Her suspect is Archie Doyle (referred to only as ‘Doyle’), son of retired East End gangster, Frank Doyle. She has been led to him by her informer who called herself Juliet Bravo and will not reveal her true identity. Unfortunately, she is found floating in the Thames with her throat slashed.
Berlin is suspended for not having revealed her source to her bosses but a worse problem arises when GP, one of the few left who will prescribe heroin to addicts, is murdered in his surgery.
She is left with just one week’s supply of the drug to solve the two murders and nail Doyle before the cold turkey kicks in. But Doyle’s operations extend further than she realises.
This is a compelling book, full of nostalgic glances to the old East End of her father's time, back beyond the Krays to Limehouse before it was obliterated by Canary Wharf and its army of crooked bankers.
There are a lot of political undertones in the book. How police budgets are being cut due to the current financial crisis and units are closed down with their work outsourced to private companies. Gaps in procedures to cut costs are affecting police efficiency. Bankers and City folk are pariahs. One feels Ms Hauxwell could well progress to a second career in politics.
Her detectives don’t come out of it too well either, given as they are to bribery and corruption themselves. Probably more open to temptation in times of recession.
It is a complex plot and well written. Too many modern crime novels read like Janet and John. All strands of the plot get sorted in the end except Berlin’s future is left rather hanging in the air.
All the more reason then for believing we have happily not seen the last of her.