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Author: Helen Black

Title: Blood Rush

Publisher: Robinson

Paperback Original: 311 pages

ISBN: 978-1-84901-473-1

Price: £6.99

Publication Date: 21/04/2011

It’s rare for a crime novel to make me think about the society that I live in, rather than be a vehicle for escapism – but that is exactly what Helen Black’s fourth novel, Blood Rush, did. Its subject matter – teen gangs, violence and knife crime, and class boundaries – are obviously incredibly emotive subjects at the moment in Britain, and they are cleverly used in this novel to really make them have a very definite impact on the reader. It does rather beg the question of whether fiction should be purely for the purposes of enjoyment or if it should try to hold a candle up to society’s ills and have – in a way – a moral purpose.

And, after reading Blood Rush, I found that Black had managed to make me to a certain extent re-evaluate the way in which I view British urban gang culture. Having grown up in South London [which is, of course, far better than the post-apocalyptic wasteland that is North London. Ha ha!], I do have some experience of the world that Black is writing about – but it is still a very limited experience. Something that became abundantly clear as I read the book.

Set in the estates of Luton, the novel opens with a girl gang savagely beating a rival gang member. Tough-talking, maverick lawyer, Lilly Valentine, is asked to represent the girl accused of leading the attack, and has to fight against a wall of silence from the community and the fact that the father of her baby daughter is the lead investigator on the case [which doesn’t bode well for their already fraught ‘relationship’]. And, all the while, the reader gets the sense that it is only a matter of time before a rival gang seeks retribution. But, in a way, you can’t really condense the plot into only a few sentences, as Blood Rush’s plot arc doesn’t so much resemble the trajectory of your typical crime novel, but rather has similarities to a television drama or a documentary.

And with its sharp narrative and grittily realistic depictions of drug use, violence, street vernacular and the effects that these things have upon families and society, this is a novel that certainly has an impact. And you can certainly see that Black has been able to bring her experience as a lawyer to bear upon her writing – the sections set around the police station and the court feel incredibly realistic.

Low on laughs and light, Blood Rush is probably not a novel that will appeal to all crime fiction readers due to its topic(ality) and setting. However, don’t let that discourage you as this is a really though-provoking and different read.

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