After reading A Bitter Taste by Annie Hauxwell (Penguin) you’d be forgiven for thinking that London is intensely bleak, even when the sun is shining…
This dark and sordid tale, is lead by, and perhaps also coloured by drug-addicted investigator Catherine Berlin…
London is in the grip of a stifling heatwave. The city has slowed to a claustrophobic shuffle. Heroin-addicted investigator Catherine Berlin suffers while working the lowest of investigations: matrimonial.
The city’s junkies are in the grip of a drought of a different kind. Sonja Kvist a strung-out ghost from Berlin’s past, turns up on her doorstep. Sonja daughter is missing. An unpaid debt leaves Berlin no choice but to take the case of the missing ten-year-old.
Berlin is back. And soon the hunter becomes the hunted: corrupt detectives are on Berlin’s tail chasing drugs she doesn’t have, a young girl is murdered and the matrimonial case unravels.
And the temperature keeps rising.
Despite her pervasive cynicism and being both physically and emotionally damaged, Berlin still can’t resist the pull to do the right thing, to search for a girl lost in a dangerous city. She’s doing it for Princess, she’s doing it for Sonja, but most of all she’s doing it for atonement.
Even though this book is relentlessly gritty, A Bitter Taste is a really enjoyable read. It is fast-paced, with Berlin pushing against the clock, the weather and her physical limitations. It offers up varied story-threads, well intertwined and played out by multiple characters, all of whom are playing for a piece of a very unappetising pie…
Kennedy ruminated on the fact that Bertie had him sitting in the back of a stinking hotbox of a van in Silvertown when he should have been off-duty.
It was funny how it was always him doing this sort of thing. Bertie saved himself for the high-end stuff, like belting people. Kennedy didn’t have the stomach for it. Occasions when his own buttons were pushed were rare, but when they were it could get ugly.
He raised the telephoto lens and peered through the tinted back window at the building down the road. It was quiet, apart from a lone figure limping across the gravel towards the portico. There was no sign of a vehicle or a departing mini-cab, s she must have walked from the DLR station. Kennedy tightened focus.
It was the woman he’d noticed the other day crouching against the wall, watching the place. He took a few shots just before she disappeared around the back of the building. Probably another junkie looking for a connection. Good luck, love, he thought, that’s what we’re all waiting for. He was bored half to death. Maybe he would take a closer look.
The story is dark, but not disturbingly so, and it frantically, but satisfyingly resolved at its conclusion.
I’ll admit, I found it a little funny how relative the term ‘heatwave’ can be. Each section of the novel begins with a temperature reading; 28C, 29.5C, 33C. It worked well as a device to communicate a rising heat, but I found it difficult to stop myself thinking; “33 degrees, bah, that’s nothing! She should try 43 degrees!” Nonetheless, the sense of relief brought by the final section, entitled ’12C’ was both felt and appreciated.
I was really drawn into the twists and turns of this novel, and am sufficiently intrigued by Berlin’s scarred state to want to go back to Book 1 in the Catherine Berlin Series, In Her Blood and take a look. I’m sure it’ll be more of the same grit and grunge!
If you’d like to find out more about A Bitter Taste by Annie Hauxwell, visit the Penguin website here.
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