21st Jun 2012
Weirdo by Cathi Unsworth
It’s been three years since her last book, Bad Penny Blues, which took on Jack the Stripper in swinging sixties Soho and Labroke Grove, but Weirdo is worth the wait.
It tells the story of private investigator Sean Ward, sent to the seaside town of Ernemouth in Norfolk to investigate a long-cold case, that of fifteen-year-old schoolgirl Corinne Woodrow, convicted for murdering a classmate twenty years ago.
But now, new forensics evidence suggests that there was someone else involved, and Sean is working his way through likely links to the past, including the local press, Corinne’s former classmates, and now-retired DCI Len Rivett, who was in charge of the original case.
What he soon discovers, though, is that more people are complicit than he could have ever suspected, and they’re all invested in ensuring that their secrets stay buried with the past.
While Sean’s new contacts and acquaintances seem to want to help, he still ends up being misled and misdirected at every turn; everyone has a hidden agenda and no-one is quite what they seem.
Like Cathi’s previous novels, Weirdo alternates between past (1984) and present (2003), making it a tense, addictive page-turner. As Sean investigates every available lead in one narrative strand, the other details the events leading up to Corinne’s conviction.
We meet Corinne and her classmates, encounter the corruption behind the bright facade of Ernemouth’s funfair and amusement arcades, and come to a gradual understanding of the powers at play.
Featuring a motley crew of miscreant teens, Ernemouth lowlife, bikers, witches and bitches, Weirdo’s colourful cast, coupled with Cathi’s signature vivid evocations of time, place and subculture, make it a rich and memorable read.
The Norfolk coast, landscape and character is omnipresent, as sinister, stubborn and menacing as Weirdo‘s other villains. And as well as a cleverly-crafted whodunnit, Weirdo has several other important roles.
A love letter to the dark-hearted music and fashion of the eighties, it illustrates the redemptive power of finding your subculture, the comfort that comes with recognising your own, and its uses for finding and defining identity.
It questions the collective small-town mindsets of places like Ernemouth, where Weirdo is set; places whose public image is carefully controlled, where suspicion and superstition are used to trigger trouble or to keep the masses quiet; places that protect their own and have their own brand of justice for when things go awry.
A dark, compelling and original story sure to stop you from sleeping, Weirdo is published in July by Serpent’s Tail, and you can pre-order it in hardback for £6.23.
Recommended for: Goths, witches and weirdos, and anyone intrigued by the crime noir combination of bad girls, bent cops and sinister shenanigans by the seaside.
Other recommended reading: For more disenchanted teens in over their heads, read Jenni Fagan‘s début novel, The Panopticon, Whores on the Hill by Colleen Curran or Cold Light by Jenn Ashworth. For more from Cathi, try Bad Penny Blues, The Singer or The Not Knowing.