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Wednesday, 29 March 2023

‘White Riot’ by Joe Thomas

Published byArcadia Books Ltd,
19 January 2023.
ISBN: 978-1-5294-337-3 (HB)

Set in Hackney over two, separate six-month periods in 1978 and 1983, fact and fiction blend seamlessly in this dense, fast-paced narrative. Tensions are running high as Anti-Nazi and other anti-fascist groups confront the threat from National Front skin-heads. Politicians deliberately stoke the flames as they set out to galvanize the racial anxiety that lurks within sections of the native white population. Politics and the corruption, cruelty, violence and overt racism of the local police combine to exacerbate the unacceptable discrimination and poverty to which coloured immigrants are constantly and consistently subjected.

Against what seems like impossible odds, one young policeman, DC Patrick Noble is given the task of investigating racist attacks.  He takes his duties seriously and runs two Spycops operations, one on each side of the far-right and the left divide. This is dangerous work.  One of the Spycops is killed whilst on duty and a distressed Noble ends up taking a couple of years off work in the interval between the two periods described in the book. When recalled to duty Noble is dispatched to deal with the death of a young black man, Colin Roach. The police say Roach has committed suicide in the foyer of Stoke-Newington police station.  Colin’s friends, and what evidence there is, suggest differently. 

Music, along with some of the musicians of the day have an important role in the book. They endeavour to promote an environment in which people of different races can live happily together. Socially aware musicians set up Rock Against Racism known as the RAR movement to help promote people power. The idea is that black and white should unite in peaceful protest in the face of overt discrimination. We get insight into the music scene through the eyes and actions of Suzi Sciafa, a fearless photo journalist. She is shacked up in a squat with the love of her life, Keith, who is a prime organizer with the bands and soloists who perform for the Carnival Against Racism. When pushed, Suzi also acquires intelligence for those on the side of justice and peace. 

Jon Davies, a white solicitor working at Hackney town hall is a decent man.  Unfortunately, his attempts to help one his immigrant neighbours get to the truth about what happened to her husband are efficiently frustrated by the police and the justice system. He is warned off by a “friendly” policeman who drives his police car to Jon’s house and points out that they know where Jon lives with his wife and young son. 

White Riot is a well-written, well-researched book that is eminently worth reading. It is unusual in that whilst it describes obvious and obnoxious crimes, particularly against those with a coloured skin, the perpetrators of the crimes are as likely - or more likely - to be those entrusted with our safety and wellbeing as those we usually regard as belonging to the criminal fraternity.
Reviewer: Angela Crowther

Joe Thomas is a visiting lecturer in Literature and Creative Writing at Royal Holloway, University of London. Prior to this, he lived and taught in São Paulo for ten years. Gringa is the second book to feature detective Mario Leme. The first, Paradise City, was published by Arcadia in 2017.

Angela Crowther
is a retired scientist.  She has published many scientific papers but, as yet, no crime fiction.  In her spare time Angela belongs to a Handbell Ringing group, goes country dancing and enjoys listening to music, particularly the operas of Verdi and Wagner.

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