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Sitting in the staff kitchen a couple of weeks ago, one of my work colleagues came out and asked what I was reading. Generally I hate that question because firstly it means I have to actually stop reading which is annoying enough because it means returning to the real world, and secondly, it means having to explain whatever obscure book that I'm reading at the time to my colleagues who are likely not to like what I'm interested in.
On this particular occasion, my colleague suggested this "fantastic" book to me that I just had to read; completely ignoring the type of books I said I was interested in, the next day she brought in "The Know" by Martina Cole. As I'm new to the job and I don't know my colleague that well, I politely took the book and promised to read it, all the while feeling a tad irritated that it would take away precious time from the stack of books I was planning to read that were on my bookshelf. My mum for years has told me to read Cole's books but I've always declined believing I wouldn't enjoy them. I think I had some preconceived idea that her books are the type of books that are churned out at extremely short intervals and all pretty much cover the same sort of things and actually aren't that clever (a bit like Jodi Picoult books, sorry to those who are fans).
So it was to my surprise that I actually couldn't put the book down at all and managed to read this at every spare opportunity over the next three days! It might still be true that her new books seem to appear in very quick succession, and it may also be true that the books cover very similar subjects, but I've discovered what she does, she does well.
**** Story Summary... ****
Joanie Brewer is a single mother of three; seventeen year old Jon-Jon, Jeanette who's fourteen and eleven year old Kara. Nothing different there then, except all her children have different fathers, and oh - Jeanie makes her living on street corners.
As a result of their upbringing and environment, Joanies two eldest are already well know to the police and the family as a whole has a reputation not to be messed with on their estate. Jon-Jon is fast developing a reputation as someone not to cross paths with and Jeanette appears far to worldly and grown up for such a young girl.
It is the youngest, Kira who seems to pull this family together, she is still young, and due to learning difficulties, remains innocent to the big bad world in which the other members of her family live in. As a result, Jeanie and Jon-Jon are fiercely protective of her. That is, until one day their worst fears come true, and Kira goes missing. The family are all at once torn further apart and drawn closer together in finding out what happened to their beloved Kira as they go through every families worst nightmare.
**** Some negatives out the way first...****
Admittedly, it took me a good few chapters to really get into the flow of Cole's writing, and although I eventually gobbled up and enjoyed every word, I still found her turn of phrase and use of certain slang immensely annoying, no more so than at the early stages when the characters were being developed. Jon-Jon often refers to Joanie as "muvver" and there are some similar "cockney" phrasings scattered throughout which really grated.
These phrasings along with some early descriptions and conversations depicting the family dynamic made it very difficult for me to understand any of the main characters at first. I just couldn't see how the readers could sympathize with Joanie choice of profession or how she brought up her kids. (during the first few pages, it becomes clear that Jon-Jon is a feared drug dealer and Jeanette helps herself regularly to her mothers alcohol which Joanie has full knowledge of. ) In fact, I was almost ready to give up when I felt that Joanie didn't really care what her two eldest did whilst she was out making her money - thank god I had some patience to see it through for just a bit longer...
****...and now for the positives...****
...because the fact of the matter is, Cole eventually develops these characters into surprisingly loving and likeable characters very quickly. Far from being some scum-family who don't really care for each other and who do what they do for easy cash, it quickly transpires that, unlike other mothers on the estate, Joanie is a mother who will do whatever it takes to make sure her children have anything they possibly need and on top of that list is her love and affection. Although she hates her job, she is willing to pursue it to put food on the table. Her home is shabby but clean, she has the adoration of her children and she always wants the best of them - in their own little world. By the end of the book, I had a lot of admiration for Joanie and I really loved the way in which Joanie's world was portrayed.
Similarly, I found myself being won over by Jon-Jon's character; although Joanie actively encourages him to go into business with her pimp which makes him even more dangerous than he was before, I willed him to do well. Despite all the wrong things he does throughout the book, I liked the way in which it was always inferred that he was inherently a good person, this was shown the most when they were looking for the answers to Kira's disappearance.
The only family member that I found it difficult to get to grips with was Jeanette and her constant disregard for her family and her youngest sister. I did understand that most teenagers are rebellious and sometimes selfish, but it felt that sometimes she just went too far against the rest of her family making her difficult to like at times.
The characters are what really makes this story come alive, but the story surrounding them is such an ordeal and so current that it is just as fascinating to find out about. Kira's disappearance sparks media attention the likes of which we have seen before in Madeleine McCann and Jessica Chapman and Holly Wells. Kiras disappearance is so vivid it was easy to picture the media interest, and it was also easy to see from an outsiders perspective what the Great British Public would see when they examined the family in which Kira had come from. So what made it fascinating for me was to read the perspective from a very different family - one that does not have the privilege of money and a sturdy family structure. Joanie's life is far from conventional but I liked how it was portrayed that she was like every other mother who has a missing child.
***Final thought ****
Overall, I found this story, both gripping and gritty; there is nothing that is shied away from, it is realistic enough without going into sensationalism and there was no need for any graphic descriptions of any violence or sexual acts when looking at some of the subject matters tackled in this - it was well written that it was easy to read between the lines. I am definitely a convert to Coles books and its taken years for me to even pick up one. It just goes to show you shouldn't turn your nose up at something that you haven't tried, it might just be the perfect book for you.
I have read quite a few of Martina Cole books now and i think this one is up there with the best of them.
This book is about a single parent family who live on a council estate in London. The mother (Joanie) is a prostitute, who loves her children dearly. She has three kids to three different fathers. Her son (Jon Jon) is the oldest and he takes the role of the man of the house, he is also the local up and coming hard man. Jon Jon may be a gangster in the making but his biggest loyalties are with his family, he would do absolutely anything to protect his mother and his two younger sisters. Jeanette is the middle child who is spoilt rotton and causes an arguement about anything and everything, and she has no time of day for her younger sister Kira, and she deeply regrets it when she goes missing...
The characters are given a real depth and every little piece of information given solts right into place as the book progresses. Although i found this book a bit sad it was definitley worth the time to read.
A review of 'The Know' by Martina Cole
I was first introduced to Martina Cole's work by my mother, who in her own inimitable way handed me a book called 'The Know' and stated that it was a 'disgusting' book, so she thought I might like it.....
There started my collection of Martina Cole novels!
The author was born in 1958 and brought up in Essex.
She wrote her first novel, 'Dangerous Lady' when she was a single mum in her early twenties. The novel was written in long hand and Martina Cole held on to her novel before eventually plucking up courage to approach a literary agent, Darley Anderson, with the book in the early 1990's. Dangerous Lady became an instant best seller.
Martina Cole writes of subjects that to many are considered taboo, prostitution, drugs, paedophiles, people smuggling and gangland crime to mention a few topics. In The Know, all these are covered. Ms Cole is not afraid to draw on things that most of us find uncomfortable and work them into her novels. She pulls no punches and tells her tales of crime and the shady criminal underworld in a highly readable fashion. Several of Martina Cole's novels have gone on to become television drama series and when first published in 2003, The Know' jumped straight to No1 of the Sundy Times bestseller list and remained there for seven weeks.
Martina Cole has divorced twice, she has a son, a daughter and one grandchild, she still lives in Essex.
Martina Cole's web site address is www.martinacole.co.uk.
The story covers the family and life of prostitute Joanie Brewer. Joanie is the typical tart with a heart, yes she's on the game but she works the streets to provide for her children, Jon Jon, at 18 years old already knee deep in crime and a hard man in the making, 14 year old Jeanette, a street wise foul mouthed girl who knows far more than any 14 year old should and the baby of the family 11 year old Kira. Kira is the apple of Joanie and Jon Jon's eyes, she is a happy childish little girl who has learning difficulties, Joanie relies on Jon Jon and Jeanette to care for Kira while she is out plying her trade, much to Jeanette's chagrin. Kira is the only one of Joanie's three children not to have spent time in care and she is anxious that it stays that way. The story opens with Joanie being told by the police that her daughter's body has been found.
Joanie's pimp, Paulie Martin is a central character to the story, he has been a pimp for most of his life, having started out pimping his own mother. He has a wife and children who do not know what he really does for a living, although he has a finger in almost every pie imaginable and has several high ranking police officers in his pay. He is also Kira's father, although this is not discovered until almost the end of the book. Paulie offers Jon Jon work as he can see the youngster could be useful to him, this proves ultimately to be Paulie's downfall.
'Little' Tommy Thompson, another main character, is a morbidly obese neighbour, who lives with his bullying father, becomes Kira's childminder when it becomes obvious that Jeanette cannot be trusted to keep an eye on the child. Tommy is shy and reserved but under the friendship of the Brewer family he comes out of his shell and blossoms until events overtake the whole estate and rock his new found confidence and his world.
Kira is friendly with Bethany the daughter of another prostitute and Joanie's sometime friend, Monika. Bethany is a much bolder child altogether and leads Kira into all kinds of scrapes such as pinching a bottle of booze and getting so drunk that she is hospitalised with alcoholic poisoning, however Bethany is also into something far more sinister and shady than mere drinking. When Kira disappears without trace it is Bethany who holds the key to the tragic events leading up to Kira's subsequent death. More I will not reveal for fear of spoiling the outcome for readers!
This book is a heart wrenching read, at times the subject matter is unpleasant, the violence and bad language are there aplenty but not gratuitously, it is a harrowing story and one that Martina Cole tells remarkably well. The characters are believable, well drawn and completely in keeping with the context of the storyline.
My only complaint is that the prologue tells the reader that little Kira had been abducted and her body has been found, I would have preferred the story to follow a logical pattern and not know the outcome at the start.
(If you are easily offended by the 'F' and 'C' words I would not recommend this novel to you.)
**About the book**
First Published in hardback 2003 by Headline Book Publishing
First Published in paperback 2004 by Headline Book Publishing
RRP £6.99 paperback.
Thank you for reading.
*This review also published on helium.com and peazyshop.co.uk under pen-name brittle1906