I miss London: its noise and its unconvincing quiet, its filth and its greenery, its ambiguity, arrogance and compromises. But for the last few hours I’ve been in the company of a real lover of London, a city of blood red buses – and of blood. Blood Red City. There’s a detail, early on, when a possible murder is carried out on the Tube: it’s videoed and the recipient of the film works out which line it’s happened on from the moquette of the tube cars. It’s a vivid and typical Londoner moment. I spent a bit of time on Google maps to verify some of the details of bits of north London I don’t really know. It’s all on point. This book will have you almost touching the dust of the Whetstone streets.
Not that you would want to be a character in this novel. Blood Red’s a full-on thriller: journalist and fixer on opposite sides of a crime find they have common cause long after sifting clay underfoot should have thrown them together. The underworld throws together big finance, City Hall and a network of irregulars with digital capability. The plot is intricate, full of double dealing. No one tells the truth. The characters bluff and counter bluff each other – and nor are they straight with themselves. As is normal in these circumstances we spend all our time suspecting everyone in turn and there’s a good case against each character. Through the inner voices of the two main protagonists, Reynolds keeps we the reader fairly well updated with developments. The pace is relentless: there are times you hope that the characters can just break for a nap as their tiredness leads them to make mistakes. Each part of the puzzle is uncovered at just the right rate of knots to keep us fully involved. There is also a good balance between big and organised crime, with its political ramifications, on one hand, and family tension on the other.
Tales like this stand or fall not on their plots but on their characters, and in Lydia and Stringer we have two leads who are three-dimensional and messed-up enough both to be interesting and for us to care. Lydia, a journalist who has been banished to write showbiz clickbait, has plenty of bravery and if, at first, she’s all over the place, by the end she’s long emerged from the shadows of a career blighted by office politics. When she digs deep there’s a moral core, we think. Stringer is a man of contradictions: his professional life sustains itself through blackmail, stitch-ups and aggression, and when he strays too closely to morality he loses his mojo. At the start of the book we admire his effectiveness even as we deplore his methods; by the end Lydia has out-thought him and we know that his offers of big money can’t bring him inner peace. They are good characters, deftly portrayed. I don’t know whether there is enough scope for them to grow so I am not holding out for a sequel – but I do hope that Rod Reynolds does another thriller set in London. He understands the city, and makes it glisten. With blood, not gold.
Thanks to Orenda Books for the review copy.
Blood Red City is out now as an ebook and is released as a paperback on 23 July. You can place a pre-order here (affiliate link). At the time of writing it is in Amazon’s Political Fiction, Hard-Boiled Mystery, Spy Stories and Tales of Intrigue and Technothrillers list.