Saturday, 29 August 2009

“Blood Money”, Tom Bradby

Journalist and Royal Correspondent Tom Bradby has been slowly but surely carving out a niche for himself with a loosely connected series of historical crime thrillers ranging in scope from revolutionary Russia to World War II Cairo. "Blood Money", topically in today's environment, sets a police corruption and sexual serial killer story against the background of 1929 New York and the Wall Street Crash. Covering the decisive few days that saw the end of the 1920s boom and the run up to the New York mayoral elections of 1929, it sees honest detective Joe Quinn seeking to unpick a series of murders and disappearances linked to his family and which exist in the context of a deeply corrupt city. As a story it is absorbing and immersive, the core police procedural being overlayed with historical detail and the complex family relationships of the Quinn family.

"Blood Money" exists in the same universe Bradby has created for his other historical crime novels, and thus there is a level of interconnection that slightly frustrates. The gap between publishing the books meant that for me, the details of characters in other books were a touch hazy, which led to undue effort early on trying to plot the relations between characters in this novel and those in his others. This serves to lessen the force that underpins the start to "Blood Money", which otherwise is powerful and sets the frenetic noirish pace that carries throughout the novel. Ultimately however you realise that this is entirely a standalone work, and the linkages really don't matter in the wider scheme of things, which allows you to concentrate on the really rather good central story. This raises the question as to whether somehow Bradby would be better off creating entirely new characters with no real relations to the other books each time?

For all the depth of historical detail, Bradby is deliberately unspecific about precise dates. This allows you, with a vague grasp of what happened in the Wall Street Crash, to start to locate events and understand where in the climacteric period of late October 1929 the story takes place. The time period covered ends as rumours abound that the collapsing market has been stemmed, appearing to offer closure in a wider sense than just the central crime story, however broader historical events, such as the outcome of La Guardia's mayoral campaign, are left unanswered, relying on history to relate what ultimately happened . This is an oft recurring theme with Bradby, and it's effective. Just as "The God of Chaos" finishes just before the seismic battle of El Alamein, the reader is left understanding how much more of a cataclysm awaits the central characters they have grown to identify with, reinforcing the picture of ordinary people's overwhelming dramas being carried away by the great sweep of history.

While Bradby has developed an unmistakable style of writing, one of his key strengths is to avoid producing boilerplate fiction. This is achieved partially through his mastery of different historical settings, all of which have an air of authenticity (and his depiction here of New York is no different), but there is sufficient diversity in detail in the way his superficially similar plots are delivered. While there is betrayal in "Blood Money", it differs in scale and nature from that found in his other works, similarly the corruption of characters' souls takes a subtly different form to that which we've uncovered in the past. This combination of sticking to what he's genuinely very good at, and simultaneously tweaking the formula keeps his writing fresh and makes for a reading experience that's genuinely enjoyable

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