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Saturday, August 14, 2010

Living on a Prayer. Sheila Quigley. Arrow Books. (2006)

This is a very enjoyable crime story with a savagely bleak undertow. A teenager is found hanging at a local scenic spot, the assumption is suicide. Neither the boy's mother nor Detective Inspector Lorraine Hunt are convinced, if for very different reasons. Richard's friends, a group of teenagers, each one with significant family problems appear to know considerably more than they are willing to say. A man is brutally assaulted and a group called the Blessing Guides have established themselves in the area. The story moves quietly, the extensive cast is given plenty of space to move, there is as much attention given to the lives of the cast as to the action. The reveals are cleverly staged, the action is sharp and nasty, it arises very naturally from the actions and personalities of the cast.
Sheila Quigley has developed a considerable reoccurring cast and uses them very well to frame the central plot. The people living in the Salthills estate, few working , most on some form of benefit are all involved to some extent with marginally legal or simply illegal activities in an effort to have enough to raise their families. Sheila Quigley clearly has both great affection and sympathy for them, without ever being blind to their weaknesses. This gives the story a tremendous context, the plot has real and visible consequences and implications for the cast.
One of the most striking aspects to the story is the way that the astonishingly grim plot is carefully covered by the warmth of the writing. The villains are credible in their callous greed and callous manipulation of wounded teenagers. They depth of their brutality is revealed clearly, without any hyperbole. It sneaks up on the reader making the full realisation of what is going on all the more effective.
The central romance is also handled with flair and quiet humour, there are enough complications to generate tension and the writing is good enough to make it enjoyable rather than cringe inducing. A gripping read.

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