Title: Hit Girls
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Hardback: 390 pages
Publication Date: 03/03/2011
London’s East End is a savage, lawless realm … or it certainly is in Dreda Say Mitchell’s new novel, Hit Girls. Quite frankly, there are so many gangsters, drugs, and weapons swirling around that it’s a bit like a Where’s Wally book – with normal, law-abiding citizens being almost non-existent! It’s such a dangerous milieu that I, after almost two and a half decades of living and growing up in [South] London, am considering never leaving the house again. It’s too scary out there! So terrifying that a ‘hard man’ like Ross Kemp would probably be soiling his britches fairly quickly.
It takes only a few pages for the savage violence to begin, with the brutal murder of two ten-year-old twin sisters outside their school acting as the catalyst for a tale of bloody revenge. For the girls’ father is the semi-deranged and psychotic Stan Lewis, scion of one of the East End’s most feared villains, Kenny Lewis [his name may not be particularly scary, but he is a real piece of work. Trust me!]. And the evidence all seems to point to another rising Face in the criminal world, Paul Bliss [which, of course, makes it highly doubtful that he actually did it].
The undoubted point of comparison for this novel is Martina Cole. Like Cole’s books, Hit Girls is filled with nefarious ne’er-do-wells, extreme violence, battered women and strong women, dysfunctional families and has a battering ram pace that really knocks the breath out of you. In fact, the influence of Cole even extends to the front cover [where she has a quotation praising Mitchell]. And there is even one [fairly integral] character in the novel called … Marina [it was probably subconscious on the part of Mitchell, but it is only one letter out!].
The problem with being compared to Cole is that she is something of a phenomenon and completely unique. Therefore most people are going to come up short. However, that’s not to say that Hit Girls isn’t a really enjoyable read. Just that it isn’t Martina Cole [but then, apart from Cole herself, who is?!]. And, actually, Mitchell manages to give this novel its own individual spin on the East End gangster world it portrays by keeping the focus more upon the crime and procedural elements [whereas Cole’s forte is her ability to really get inside the dynamics of family and relationships].