No Mercy

Written by Martina Cole

Review written by Ali Karim

Ali Karim was a Board Member of Bouchercon [The World Crime & Mystery Convention] and co-chaired programming for Bouchercon Raleigh, North Carolina in 2015. He is Assistant Editor of Shots eZine, British correspondent for The Rap Sheet and writes and reviews for many US magazines & Ezines.

No Mercy
Headline Publishing
RRP: £20
Released: October 15 2019

“Eilish wondered why the fuck she bothered with any of it, but she knew that the feeling wouldn’t last. It never did.” And so, commences Martina Cole’s highly anticipated return to print.  This time, the gangland theme she explores is darker than what preceded. The short chapters that propel the plot to a devastating climax maybe new to her readers; but her interest in family loyalty coupled to the business-side of villainy remains at the core of this new work.

The prologue introduces us to the harsh reality of family, and the unwritten curse that often hides beneath the veneer of family bonds. In the world of Martina Cole, these ties are forged blood-on-blood.

The shadow of the villain “Big Angus” lies at the core of this tale. Following his death by the big ‘C’, his wife Diana Davies takes the reigns of the business, and of the family. If truth be told, Diana always held control, but since his death - she is visibly in the driving seat of his crime dynasty.

There is “Little Angus”, the big villain’s only son; one who shares his late father’s propensity for crime, as well as his abilities in villainy. “Big Angus” Davies had Diana to ensure the family kept out of trouble. “Little Angus” has Lorna, as well as three children who may (or may not) share Diana’s skillset, resolve and hard-as-nails world-view.

A power struggle is signposted early on, as a criminal generation-game of succession commences. Diana is cautious about her son’s abilities to take-over ‘the firm’, though supportive in public - in private she feels he’s ‘not the brightest bulb on the Christmas tree’ – though Jane O’Leary, her own mother thinks differently.

Principally set in London and Essex, No Mercy has an international flavour as characters reflect the diversity of the metropolis, and how crime creeps between cultures such as in Spain, where Arabic/North African drug deals in Marbella straddle the expatriate English bar-life. In Cole’s narrative the criminal networks extend from North London, Glasgow, to the Columbians, Jamaicans, Afghani-Pakistani, East-European gangs, with their drugs, and their gangland violence; all told dispassionately and without judgement.

Cole striates her tale of family secrets with vignettes and dialogue though coarse in tone belays a compassion for those trapped in this life.  As the plot slowly unrolls, we learn that past deeds may clash with present ambition. It’s not just Abad and Hamid that we should fear, but the bullets closer to home.

Diana Davies has to watch for her daughter-in-law Lorna’s aspirations, and the motivations of her grandchildren, the junior Angus, Sean and Eilish as money and power are magnets.

There is a great deal of death in this novel, violent death as little is as it seems. Beneath the surface gloss the veneer is thin, like ice on a thawing lake. Thankfully, Cole’s dark humor and witty one-liners make the reader smirk, even if at times it feels inappropriate. Horror and humour (as emotions) are the yin and the yang that help make this novel flow, until the conclusion is reached and then we think, and we ponder.

No Mercy is an insightful look under the shadow world that lies millimeters from the one we normally perceive. It is a welcome addition to the work of Martina Cole, further cementing her reputation as one the World’s toughest crime writers.

But a warning.  

No Mercy as a title is eponymous, for it reveals that many of the characters contained in the narrative receive no quarter, as family bonds can be shattered, and when they are, there will be plenty of claret flowing.

Highly recommended.

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