12 Feb Never Go Back by Jessie Keane
Enter into the dangerous world of London’s ganglands
This blogtour is a departure for me – I’ve always shied away from stories about organised gang crime, thinking they’d be too violent and too masculine.
But Never Goes Back features female Annie Carter, who made her debut in Jessie Keane’s debut novel Dirty Game, and I was intrigued by her character, and persuaded to give this a go by the fact that it’s more or less a prequel, so I wouldn’t be lost in a continuing story that has spanned six books.
The story goes back twenty years and opens with Queenie, matriarch of the Carter family, a single mother of three boys – Max, Jonjo and Eddie.
Determined to break out of poverty, and give his mum a better life, Max turns to organised crime, and soon the Carters are established gang leaders in the East End of London, on a par with the Kray twins.
But Queenie hides a secret – after a brief fling in her forties, she gave birth to Bruno, abandoning him to the care system, though unknown to her, he is brought up by her sister Nora.
By aged 15, he’s alone, unloved and determined to take revenge on Max, whom he sees as author of all his misfortunes.
And so he turns to the Carters’ deadliest rivals, the Delaney family.
Meanwhile, Max and his wife Annie, now separated, both find themselves under threat – Annie is attacked by an unknown assailant; a young boy who once saved Max’s life is horribly poisoned; Max’s best friend Steve is found hanging from a bridge in a murder made to look like a suicide.
As the two threads come together, taking us up to the present-day action, the danger intensifies, for Annie, Max, their daughter Layla and even for long-lost brother, Bruno – whom Max still knows nothing about!
Will the Delaneys get their revenge? Will Bruno? And Will Max and Annie ever get back together …?
The thrilling narrative races along
This was a thrilling story. As I’d suspected, there was violence from the very beginning, but it is never too graphic, thankfully, and is always secondary to the main theme of Max and Annie’s relationship, and to development of the characters.
There is a wheen of bad language, too, but you couldn’t have an authentic story about East End gangsters without that, so I had no objection to it.
The first part of the story, bringing us up to speed with where the Carters are now in the series, was so good. The narrative raced along, introducing us to all the main players and fleshing out their lives as they clawed and fought and sometimes killed their way out of poverty.
Nothing is wholly black and white when it comes to Max and Annie. Both had troubled beginnings, and it is easy to empathise with their situation, even while you cringe at the lengths they’re prepared to go to, to protect themselves and their assets.
But it’s Bruno who is a masterpiece in character development. From the beginning, you can’t help but feel sorry for that little scrap of humanity with the strawberry birthmark, unloved and unwanted, and desperately seeking his place in a lonely world.
Whenever it seems he has found happiness, it is snatched away – to my surprise, his was the story that pulled me most into this book, over the fast-paced plot and Annie and Max’s continuing, volatile relationship.
What a great story-teller!
The second half of the story, as the threads come together, gets very exciting. Here, you’re aware that a lot has gone in previous books that span the Carter story, but the author is skilful at weaving in the salient facts that the reader needs to know, so I never felt lost or short-changed.
I think the main thing I came away with from this book is what a great storyteller Jessie Keane is. Born into the Romany Community, she went from riches to rags – unlike Annie, who goes the opposite way – and ended up living in London where she witnessed at first-hand the dark underbelly of the city.
Her experiences give great authenticity to her writing, which is atmospheric, fast-paced and suspenseful, with convincing characters and dialogue, and gives a real flavour of what life must be like if you’re caught up in the gang world of East London.
I’m going back to read Dirty Game – and the rest of the books I’ve to catch up on.
Given the way I raced through this one, holding my breath for each denouement, it should not take too long!
Never Go Back by Jessie Keane is out now, published by Hodder in hardback, priced £16.99, and available here.
About the Author
Dubbed ‘Queen of the Underworld’, Jessie Keane is of Romany gypsy stock. She was born rich, in the back of her gran’s barrel top wagon, and her family thrived until their firm crashed into bankruptcy and became poor. Her father died when she was a teenager and she fled to London to escape grim reality, finding there a lifelong fascination with the criminal underworld and the teeming life of the city.
Twice divorced and living in a freezing council flat, she decided to pursue her childhood aim to become a writer. She sold her wedding dress to buy a typewriter and penned her first Annie Carter book, Dirty Game.
This was followed by five more Annie Carter books, all Sunday Times bestsellers, then Ruby Darke arrived in Nameless, Lawless and The Edge. Jessie’s stand-alone novels include Jail Bird, The Make, Dangerous, Fearless, The Knock and The Manor.
Thanks to Courtney Jefferies of ed-pr for inviting me on this blogtour and to publishers Hodder for the copy of the book.
Catch up with the rest of the blogtour at the links on the poster