Newest Review: ... of a known paedophile. There are reports circulating that a young girl named Amy is missing, and with Sophie's entrance into the house, ... more
The estate of no hope
Acid Row - Minette Walters
Member Name: JOHNDMR
Acid Row - Minette Walters
Advantages: Interesting basic story, excitingly told
Disadvantages: The parallel running of two plots made it a little messy at times
Fast forward to the summer of 2001, and rumour has it that a known paedophile is being housed on the estate. The true facts have remained a closely guarded secret at the local Health Centre, and might have gone no further than that. Unfortunately Fay Baldwin, an old-fashioned and rather embittered senior health visitor who is not far from retirement, has let the cat out of the bag in a moment of impatience while reluctantly paying a call on Melanie Patterson, a teenage single mother with a habit of dressing in skimpy clothes that the elder generation consider intentionally provocative - and another baby conspicuously on the way. Dr Sophie Morrison, shortly to be married and much liked by nearly everybody except Fay, is friendly with the young mother, finds that the word is out and is horrified. Cue a furious message on Ms Baldwin's voicemail, threatening to have her committed if she ever goes near Melanie again.
At the same time, a ten-year-old girl, Amy Rogerson is missing. Everyone believes that the worst has happened. Has she been abducted by the nonce in their midst?
Fearful for the future of her little ones and all the other kids on the estate, Melanie decides that she will organise a protest march, aided by her admiring mother Gaynor. By a bizarre coincidence, Sophie has to go and visit an elderly Polish man with severe asthma on the estate. He lives there with his son. After she has examined the former, she is about to leave the house when she finds herself trapped there by a crowd, screaming and baying for blood, some armed with stones, others with Molotov cocktails. Only then does she find out that the son is the paedophile. Ironically the son, whose giving in to temptation destroyed a promising career, turns out to be a likeable, gentle soul, but obviously afraid of his father. The latter may be suffering from asthma, but turns out to be not nearly as weak or helpless as he pretends to be. He decides that this young and very pretty doctor is going to be easy prey. If she makes one false move, he will rape her and then kill her.
To find out more - just read the book.
WHAT DID I THINK?
Obviously, this was a very ugly story. With the riots of last summer an uncomfortably close memory, and with memories of hearing about similar violent unrest on the streets and seeing reports on TV at various times in the last thirty years, this story all brought it uncomfortably close. I was fortunate enough to live well away from them all, but I still found this tale pretty chilling. It all seemed horribly real at times. Ms Walters portrays the different worlds rubbing shoulders very effectively, from the middle-class world of the health visitors and the interrogations of a smooth-talking suspect in the police station believed to be responsible for abduction and child pornography, to the effing and blinding kids and teenagers on the estate with no future, and with no respect for human life, be it perverts, people of a different race, or innocent, helpless very young children who are unlucky enough to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. All hell breaks loose, the situation is out of control, the police force is desperately overstretched and cannot contain things, and if nobody is killed as the violence escalates, it will be a miracle.
Even so, I did find the parallel running of both plots a little messy. It was as if the author was trying to run two vaguely connected stories in tandem. For me it didn't quite work, and the business of Amy's disappearance eventually appeared rather tangential in comparison with the main centre of action, what was happening on the ill-starred estate. Moreover, after the gritty nightmare story that dominates most of the noveI, I thought there was something just a little too idealistic about the ending.
Nevertheless, to use a cliché, it was a compelling page turner. There were times when I found it difficult to put down as I was keen to know what was going to happen next.
Other reviews seen elsewhere have been very mixed, which is probably the test of a good book. For me it may have been flawed, but having finished this I'm sufficiently encouraged to recommend this, and try more by the same author.
I had heard Minette Walters' name mentioned often enough as a thriller writer, yet without having read or even knowing any of her books. This being the only one available on the shelves of the library where I work, I was happy to make a space for it on my reading list. From what I have found out elsewhere, most of her books are thrillers with a mainly middle-class setting. This one goes against the grain in having a very different theme.
[Revised version of a review I originally posted on ciao]
Summary: A gritty, realistic, uncomfortable yet compulsive page-turner of a story