Thursday 7 March 2024

All Us Sinners by Katy Massey #AllUsSinners @TangledRoots1 @BooksSphere @edwoodeditior @Gabriellamay24 #BookReview


Leeds, 1977. A chill lies over the city: sex workers are being murdered by a serial killer they are calling the 'Ripper', the streets creeping with fear.

Tough, sharp, but tender, Maureen runs Rio's, a clean, discreet brothel in the city. She's a good boss who takes great care of her workers - especially her best girls, Bev and Anette. The Ripper may be terrifying girls who work the street, but at Rio's the girls seem safer.

But when Bev's sweet-natured son is found beaten to death, a figure from Maureen's past, DS Mick Hunniford, shows up at her door. Does his arrival herald danger or salvation? And who can Maureen really trust?

The impressive and moving debut crime novel from huge new talent Katy Massey opens up a world we have rarely seen, at a time of great danger and drama.

All Us Sinners by Katy Massey is published today; 7 March by Sphere Books. My thanks to the publisher who sent my copy for review. 

Despite the themes in this novel, and the grimy, dingy and sometimes squalid setting, there's a powerful, almost poetic feel to the writing. As a reader, I felt somewhat voyeuristic, as though I were standing on the sidelines, privy to the characters's thoughts and emotions. That's not to say that these characters are distant or inaccessible - they are beautifully created and I was totally invested in all of them.

Leeds in 1977 wasn't the most jolly of places to be. The city is overshadowed by the on-going search for the man they are calling the 'Ripper'. A fiend who targets sex workers, murdering and mutilating their bodies, and leaving them for others to find. Despite the horrors of women being murdered, there's certainly an element of disdain shown toward the victims. These are women who walk the streets and sell their bodies. Some of the police officers on the case, and many of the public, led by the press have their own opinions about what the Ripper is doing, and some of the comments make for very hard reading. 

However, the Ripper is not the only murderer on the streets, and women have not been the only victims. When young David is found beaten to death outside a backstreet pub, his mother Bev, and her colleagues are heartbroken, and angry. 

Bev and Annette work for Maureen at Rio's; a sauna and massage parlour. Maureen takes the lead in this novel, it is her story and whilst the killings are centre stage, it is Maureen's own life story that is the most compelling.  A woman with a tortured background, whose mother left when she was just a girl, Maureen appears hard and at times, very cold. Yet there's a vulnerability in her that shines through every now and again; she cares deeply about her 'girls', and is determined that David's killer will be brought to justice. 

There's one man who knows a great deal about Maureen. DS Mick Hunniford, from Liverpool originally, but has been in Leeds for many years. Mick knew Maureen when she was that young, abandoned girl, he has watched her enter the sex trade, and knows more about her than he has ever said. I'd love to learn more about Mick, he's not a regular copper, there's so much more to him; from his fastidiously tidy car, to this reaction to comments made by his peers. He has depth and is an intriguing character for sure. 

This is an intelligent, complex and beautifully written story, led completely by the colourful characters who populate it. As the story progresses, the reader becomes more aware of just how strong Maureen is, the lengths that she will go to to ensure that justice is found.  Leeds in the 1970s was a very different place to the city now, and the author's descriptions are magical, along with her clever characterisation and the inclusion of the unexpected along the way. 

Written from the heart, with the odd touch of humour to shine a little light into the darkness, All Us Sinners is an accomplished and skilled debut from an author who is certainly one to watch. 

Katy Massey was a journalist for many years before studying for an MA and PhD in
Creative Writing. 

Her memoir, Are We Home Yet? was published in 2020 and praised by Bernardine Evaristo as 'a gem'. It was shortlisted for the Jhalak Prize and the Portico Prize. 

In addition, her fiction and nonfiction work has been widely anthologised, including Common People edited by Kit de Waal, The Place for Me, and speculative collection Glimpse. 

All Us Sinners is her first novel, an unusual take on the crime genre featuring Maureen, a tough but tender-hearted brothel-keeper in 1970s Leeds. She is unexpectedly drawn into investigating the killing of a friend's son, events which take place against the disturbing backdrop of the Yorkshire Ripper's murder spree.

X @TangledRoots1

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