“There’s something magical about trying something totally different, and the joy of discovering how enjoyable it can be.” Who said that? Well, that’s a quote from me, from my review of Alison Brodie’s Brake Failure, back in January. So when Alison asked me to try her latest book, Zenka, due for publication on 6th November and available for preorder, she really didn’t have to ask me twice!
Devious, ruthless, and loyal. Zenka is a capricious Hungarian with a dark past.
When cranky London mob boss, Jack Murray, saves her life she vows to become his guardian angel – whether he likes it or not. Happily, she now has easy access to pistols, knives and shotguns.
Jack discovers he has a son, Nicholas, a male nurse with a heart of gold. Problem is, Nicholas is a wimp.
Zenka takes charge. Using her feminine wiles and gangland contacts, she will make Nicholas into the sort of son any self-respecting crime boss would be proud of. And she succeeds!
Nicholas transforms from pussycat to mad dog, falls in love with Zenka, and finds out where the bodies are buried – because he buries them. He’s learning fast that sometimes you have to kill, or be killed.
As his life becomes more terrifying, questions have to be asked: How do you tell a mob boss you don’t want to be his son? And is Zenka really who she says she is?
Now that doesn’t look like one for me at all really, does it? But I have to say I absolutely loved it. Alison Brodie’s writing is just wonderful – she has an immense talent for story telling, with real warmth and humour that ranges from the wry and subtle to the downright slapstick. This really is quite a story, with some quite outrageous twists and turns, moments you watch with mounting horror, other scenes you read in tears of laughter – you may try to stay one step ahead, predict where it’s going, but then the author pulls another surprise out of the bag that has you gasping.
A particular strength is in the characterisation. Zenka herself is quite magnificent, and I do hope this isn’t the last we’ll see of her. I loved her relationship with gangland boss Jack, the way she plays with Nicholas: and her letters to Alina that punctuate the action are just wonderful, sharing her take on what’s going on, musing on how to take revenge on Olga Savchukis who sold her to the Romanians, and the perfect postscripts.
But every single character in this book is fully rounded – Jack is just brilliant, the murdering gangland boss with a heart, and every one of his thugs is quite distinctly drawn, dispensing Christmas cheer while blithely adding to the body count. And then there’s Trevor, The Brains, out of favour with Jack, with plans of his own, his shyness around women, the cat Bentley the focus of his life – a great character. As for Nicholas, you can’t help but love him as he gets increasingly enmeshed in a situation he’s really not equipped to cope with, and the way he changes over the course of the story is so well done. There are great lesser characters too. My favourites? The obnoxious Mr Griffith with the chest freezer in his hallway, Jason the flatmate from hell, girlfriend Penelope and her frightful family, and the superb Mrs Blanchflower upstairs.
The story is totally preposterous really, but the whole thing is so wonderfully done, with a cinematic quality to the writing – this really would make a great film, and I’ve already started casting it in my head (Vinnie Jones, keep a date in your diary!). The author’s imagination takes your breath away, as does the way she ties up every tiny thread of plot, and her writing will absolutely delight you – do give this one a try, you might just love it as much as I did.
About the author
Alison Brodie is a Scot with French Huguenot ancestors on her mother’s side: she has lived all over the world, including Kansas City, Athens and Basque country. Her first novel, Face to Face, was published by Hodder & Stoughton and became Good Housekeeping’s Pick of the Paperbacks: it was translated into German and Dutch, plus serialised in Sweden. Alison has now gone Indie: Brake Failure has 28 five-star reviews from professional book bloggers, and the Midwest Book Review called it a “masterpiece of humor”. Zenka is released on 6 November, 2017.