Many years ago I listened to the audio version of Dangerous Lady and quite liked it. Since then I hadn't touched another Martina Cole novel but after reading an interview with the author I decided to give her books another go. I'm very happy that I started with The Ladykiller, as it is one of the best crime thrillers I've ever read. The book is about the criminal underworld in the East End of London where violence, prostitution, sex shops, massage parlours, hired thugs, bent coppers and paedophiles are a part of ordinary life. I know, it all sounds pretty heavy, and believe me the book is not what you would call light-hearted, but it is written with a such a down-to-earth style and with such realism and psychological insight that it is very enjoyable and exciting to read. Martina Cole is an amazing storyteller, and knows how to keep the reader hooked all the way through.
The novel starts by focussing on George Markham, an abused boy who has turned into an abusive man. George is heavily into sadomasochism and he has started to turn his violent fantasies into real-life crimes by raping and murdering women. One of these women is Mandy Kelly, the daughter of London hard man Patrick Kelly. Patrick will stop at nothing to track down her murderer and bring him to his kind of rough justice.
At the same time, the serial rapist / murderer is being hunted by DI Kate Burrows and her police team. Kate is a woman with a wayward daughter and an ex-husband who has breezed in and out of her life too many times. The emotional heart of the novel lies with Kate and Patrick, who are on opposite sides of the legal fence but who grow to love each other. Their relationship is rocky, passionate and controversial. I absolutely adored the fact that this book included such an interesting love story. In another author's hands it could have come across as ridiculous but Martina Cole writes it perfectly.
As a female reader, I found myself absolutely falling for Patrick Kelly whilst at the same time aghast about his criminal activities and penchant for much younger women (late teens to his forty-something years) when not in a relationship. You can see how Patrick is the result of his poverty-stricken upbringing - he did what he had to do in order to survive. Everything that makes him attractive - his strength, confidence and power - is also what makes him such a successful villain. Kate is also a really strong and interesting character, and I liked the way she stood up to Patrick and didn't give up her principles when she was with him, such as when she walked out of an illegal boxing match that Patrick wanted to see.
The book is also great because every scene seems so authentic. You become immersed in a world where women are `birds' and `skirts' (I know, I know, so chauvinistic - but it's part of the culture) and police officers are the `Old Bill' and `filth'. This book is certainly not politically correct, but it is better for it. Overall, I would recommend this book to people who like crime novels and aren't offended easily by violence, bad language and sexploitation! This novel is a wonderful guilty pleasure.
One final note:
I'm surprised that Martina Cole isn't well-known in America, which I assume is the case due to the lack of reviews for her books on this website. I can only assume that the publishers felt that the distinctive East End slang / London gangster world wouldn't be understood by an American readership, which is a real shame because this is a great rough-tough gangster crime novel with a fiery romance sub-plot that is exciting all the way through. The subject matter is along the same lines as the Kenzie and Gennaro novels by American novelist Dennis Lehane, which also expose the violent and shocking criminal underworld where nothing is black and white and the line between the 'good guys' and the 'bad guys' is not as clear cut as you might think. Highly recommended.