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Martina Cole is a prolific and best selling crime writer and 'The Life' is billed as 'the most authentic novel of gangster family life ever written'.
Headline Book Publishing
Amazon prices: Hardback £9, Paperback £3.85 or Kindle 3.49
The plot (without giving too much away)
Peter and Daniel Bailey are half-brothers with very different characters. Peter is the older of the two men and has a more considered approach than Daniel whose violent temper is legendary. Both however are ruthless and together they rule the East End criminal world. Both men marry good Catholic girls and raise families who become part of the family firm.
The Bailey women are central to the book - the mother Theresa, Peter's wife Ria and daughter Imelda and Daniel's wife Lena and their daughter Tania . In fact the book starts at Lena's funeral. Before telling the story of how the Baileys will seek out the perpetrators of Lena's death and seek their revenge, the book sets out the series of events that led to up her murder. Although a formidable force it seems that a rift between the brothers developed when Daniel overstepped the mark and carried out a violent murder that even his brother could not stomach. Family loyalty runs deep however and Peter continued to watch over his brother and ensured that overall the reputation of the Bailey family and its standing as the most powerful criminal firm in the East End of London remained in tact.
May be it's a sign of age or may be I'm just over analysing as a result of writing this review, but I do wonder whether it's right to glamorise crime in this way. Yes, the characters come across as violent thugs but the underlying premise seems to be that the fact that they are a close family unit with their own (highly questionable) moral code, makes it all okay. I don't think it does! The women are painted as strong women who stand by their men but they are fully aware of how their husbands fund their opulent and very comfortable lifestyles. Indeed Daniel's wife knows she is burying her head in the sand - she doesn't want to face reality and wants to shield her daughter from the brutality of the family business.
Previous Martina Cole novels have captivated me. Yes they are just as violent and brutal as The Life but their characters have been more engaging. Perhaps, that's my fundamental issue with this book. I just don't like the characters. I also found the plot all rather predictable. For me there were no surprising twists and turns in the plot and unlike other of Cole's novel, this was one book that I was able to put down.
As to whether it really presents an authentic portrayal of gangster life, I have no idea but I hope not. Apparently this is an environment Martina experienced first hand growing up on a rough Essex council estate. I've also read that she has based characters on people she know. So perhaps this is real life and I'm just a little too naïve but surely not all police (the 'filfth') are corrupt and in the pockets of London's most violent criminals? I'm sure corruption does still exist despite best efforts to wipe it out, but this depiction does our police force no favours.
In my opinion, The Life is not one of Martina Coles' best works. That said, grizzly bits aside, it is an easy read. I think Cole writes well; her style is very direct and punchy; the language can be somewhat rich and she relishes in graphic descriptions of the violence that characterises 'the life'. However I found the story line just too predictable and its characters too unlikeable. So it's just 3 stars from me.
<<<<**I am dedicating this review to a very special man, Chris Daniels (aka CPT DANIELS) possibly the best book review writer I have ever come across. Rest in peace Chris, you will be sadly missed by many in the on line reviewing community.**>>>>
Review of 'The Life', a novel by Martina Cole
I am reviewing the paperback version of this book, published by Headline, 608 pages, ISBN 978-0755375592, cover price £7.99. Genre Crime/Thriller.
This paperback is currently available from amazon for £3.85 new, £2.99 for the Kindle version or from 0.01 (+p&p) used.
Peter and Daniel Bailey were brothers, one brother was black, the other white. Brought up in the East End of London by their white, Irish catholic mother, Theresa, the brothers were inseparable. Giving birth to an illegitimate child had been hard enough for Theresa, but to give birth to two fatherless boys and of whom one was black had been too much for Theresa's family to bear and she had been cast out by her family. As a result, life had been very hard and Teresa and her boys had had to make a life for themselves.
As they grew, the Bailey boys became a formidable team, nothing was out of their league, and nothing could stop them. The Bailey brothers had very different strengths and weaknesses, both big children and later, physically large men; Peter was the brains, Daniel the brawn.
In time they both married suitable girls, Ria and Lena and had children. Peter and Ria had a daughter and three sons, Daniel and Lena had four sons and then in time, a late baby was conceived, a longed for daughter, Tania.
From the late 1970's the Bailey brothers were the lynchpins of Britain's gangland, unstoppable, unbeatable and ruthless to outsiders but always presenting a united front no matter what was going on within the family. As their children grew up, they too became absorbed into the 'Life'.
Money and opportunity were theirs for the taking, but as the children of the Bailey brothers grow up, some took more than others leading to a dramatic climax, Martina Cole style.
**My Thoughts and Conclusion**
I have read all of Ms Cole's novels and to be honest grew a little weary of them, the violence, gruesome descriptions of torture and murders, stereotypical characters and foul language were becoming repetitive and quite frankly dull, so I moved away from this genre completely and read other authors and styles.
I recently had a small amount of money left on an amazon voucher so decided to treat myself to a book. I came across this novel and decided to give Martina Cole another try. I paid just £3.85 for the book so reasoned that this was not too much money to waste if I hated the novel!
To be honest I started reading this book with no great expectations, I actually wondered why I'd bought it as my last venture into the author's writing was less than satisfactory. I found the usual prologue (written in the first person) whetted my appetite and left me clamouring for more. Perhaps this is proof that a good prologue can captivate the reader.
The main body of the novel is written in the third person and it is a typical Martina Cole novel in that there are a whole host of richly drawn characters with gritty dialogue and many twists and turns to the storyline. I did become a little confused by the characters at one point and had to turn back to remind myself who was who and what their connection was within the story, but on the whole the characterisation was good and the sub plots within the storyline worked well and added to the drama of the plot.
One of my complaints in the first paragraph of this section was in relation to the violence and gruesome descriptions of events in Ms Cole's writing. These elements are still in evidence in 'The Life' but they are not as strong or stomach churning as within other novels from the author. Of course, I fully appreciate that this type of description is going to appear in a crime thriller but I feel Martina Cole has toned down a little and in my opinion this has improved her writing.
I do still consider this author's novels to be a little repetitive and the similarity of her characters is very noticeable. I found myself recalling events from earlier books as I read The Life, that said it did not detract too much from my enjoyment of the novel and I felt it compared very favourably to her earlier work.
All in all, I was pleased with this novel and I will probably re-read it in the future. I would recommend this book to others who like the crime thriller genre, but as always with a Martina Cole novel, it is definitely not for those who are easily offended by swearing, violence or graphic description of torture.
I am awarding this novel a 4* rating, dropping a * for the repetition.
Thank you for reading.
©brittle1906 January 2014
N.B. Please note my reviews may be found on other sites under the same user name.
I first became a big fan of Martina Cole's crime fiction books almost 4 years ago when I whizzed through her novel "Two Women" in less than 24 hours. However, after a while I stopped reading them as I found the genre quite repetitive and the underlying tones symmetrical just with different character names. Nonetheless, about 6 weeks ago or so I decided to buy the new Martina Cole book on amazon (courtesy of dooyoo) and give the new release another try in the hope I would find a book that would capture my interest after disastrous results reading a previous Patricia Cornwell book (see a different review!). I did find this book a lot better although it did take me a while to plough through!
- Storyline -
We meet our Bailey family, headed by 2 brothers Peter and Daniel. Their mum Theresa is white and Peter is the older brother, with a black father and is the calm and collected brother, but when needs be he is a ruthless member of the clan. Daniel is the younger brother, who has a white father but is the hot-headed, immoral and unemotional brother who has a taste for brutal violence in the maximum way possible for the slightest excuse. Together they are a formidable force and despite their differences in appearances they are with each other thick and thin....blood is thicker than water for both of them but can something happen to tear this Bailey family apart?
The start of the book opens with a funeral. Lena, Daniel's wife has been killed in a car bomb but what is the motive? We know for sure she was not the intended recipient of the car explosion and that it was meant for someone else. Peter has 4 children with his wife Ria, Petey Jr, Imelda, Liam and Jack and Daniel has 5 children, Danny Jr, Davey, Noel, Jamsie and Tania. As a collective to the outside world they were all untouchable until this explosion and none of them (Daniel especially) will rest until they find out who dares to challenge the family and bring them down. But is the culprit some wannabe family for their spot at the top or could it be the worst kind of mutiny and it's actually someone from within the firm?
- My Opinion -
I thought this one of Martina Cole's better books and was a much more refreshing change from some of her older novels which are all based in the 80s and give a pretty much one sided narrative of the story where you feel you already know where it's headed. With this book it had much more pace, and I could not predict what was going to happen with each turn of the page. For me this is the ideal kind of book as it made me want to continue reading and find out what would be happening next!
It is written in the third person which I thought was good as it meant throughout the story it could flit between characters and I got a more balanced perspective of each character's point of view whether or not they were doing good or bad. The writing style meant that I could connect with each of the character's a lot more and I cared about what they were going through. It was so good as one minute you are completely on Daniel's side and one minute you are on Peter's. Even when each of them complete some of the most heinous crimes, you can't help feel a bit of empathy as they go by the moral code of - kill or be killed.
In terms of the storyline I found it was easy to keep up and go through the story as it felt like I was reading a life story of the characters. The book is broken into 3 books within, the first starting in 1979, and going through their early days and their rise to the top. Book 2 is from 1987 when the kids are more grown up and are a part of the firm and Book 3 begins in 1997 and the brothers are much older and challenged for their position as head of the criminal world for in the UK. The thing I liked most was the chapters are never really more than 4/5 pages long and are often only 2-3 pages. This makes it a lot easier for me to read, as the main time I get to read is to and from work on the tube and so short and snappy chapters ensure I can read it here and there and the subject doesn't linger for too long. Long chapters (for me anyway) tend to drag on and I kind of just want the story to get to the point! I also felt the story was really fluent and didn't seem to rush through hurriedly and the end of the book brought everything to a neat resolve quite effectively without making it seem to rushed and careless in bringing the story to an end.
- Overall -
Fortunately, I rather enjoyed this book and spent about 2 hours travelling to and from Amsterdam recently completely engrossed in this book and ignoring those I was travelling with! I think the writing style is descriptive, and engaging and for those who are fans of Martina Cole would definitely enjoy giving this a read. I'll knock of 1 star only because it doesn't drift too far from the cliche Martina Cole book topic - that is gang crime in East End london infused with violence, mild incest and rivalry. It took me a while to read it, but only because having a 3 year old doesn't permit me much free reading time to be honest! It's rather long as I got the hardback copy for £10.49 and is 500 pages long with 153 chapters.