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Sunday 25 October 2015

‘Without the Moon’ by Cathi Unsworth

Published by Serpent’s Tail,
9 July 2015.
ISBN: 978-1-84668-986-4 (TPB)

Noir is a sub-genre with which I’m not very familiar, but one thing I know about it is that it’s strong on atmosphere and background.

In Without the Moon, Cathi Unsworth lives up to her growing reputation as an ace creator of both. She evokes the 1940s war years with powerful images, effortless weaving in of description and deft use of language, especially contemporary slang, which places her characters very firmly in their context as well as ensuring that the reader can easily tell who is speaking.

Chapter headings taken from song lyrics of the time add another layer, as does the author photo which shows Unsworth coiffed and made-up exactly like one of the glamorous blondes who people the mean streets throughout the dark, violent narrative.

The scene is London, in the middle of the Blitz. The city is alive with servicemen from both sides of the Atlantic, and there’s no shortage of women who value income above virtue, and are willing to exploit and be exploited by them.

Then bodies begin to turn up, mainly of blondes, all horribly mutilated. It’s down to D I Ted Greenaway, himself damaged in the previous conflict, to track down the murderer and stop the carnage. But even after he believes he has, and has the evidence to prove it, the killing doesn’t stop.

On the surface, it’s a straightforward enough serial killer premise; most of the women are prostitutes, so the culprit is dubbed the Blackout Ripper. What enriches the narrative, and raises it to another level, is the way Unsworth weaves her large cast of characters, mainly women, together, giving each an intriguing backstory; and a sub-plot or two which could easily have developed into entire stories of their own.

The novel is loosely based on two real-life murder cases in 1942. In one, the killer was identified, hunted down, tried and hanged. The second remains unsolved to this day, but Cathi Unsworth’s projected solution creates a narrative which is both credible and satisfying.
Reviewer: Lynne Patrick

Cathi Unsworth is a novelist, writer and editor who lives and works in London. She began her career on the legendary music weekly Sounds at the age of 19 and has worked as a writer and editor for many other music, film and arts magazines since, including Bizarre, Melody Maker, Mojo, Uncut, Volume and Deadline.

Her first novel The Not Knowing was published in 2005, followed the next year with the award-winning short story compendium London Noir, which she edited, and in 2007 with the punk noir novel The Singer. Her third novel, Bad Penny Blues, inspired by the unsolved 'Jack the Stripper' murders of 1959-65 was published in 2010 to great critical acclaim. Her 2012 book Weirdo, a tale of teenage trauma and female transgression set on the Norfolk coast was shortlisted in many 'best of the year' lists including the Theakston's Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year and named Book of the Year 2012 by Loud and Quiet Magazine and
As well as working on her books Cathi has appeared on TV and radio including reviewing for BBC2's The Culture Show. She regularly takes part in live events, has given screen talks at The Barbican in London and performed spoken word gigs organised by Tight Lip and The Sohemian Society.
Lynne Patrick has been a writer ever since she could pick up a pen, and has enjoyed success with short stories, reviews and feature journalism, but never, alas, with a novel. She crossed to the dark side to become a publisher for a few years, and is proud to have launched several careers which are now burgeoning. She lives on the edge of rural Derbyshire in a house groaning with books, about half of them crime fiction.

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