Blood Red City by Rod Reynolds.
Rod Reynolds first UK set thriller is a proper page turner with a really intriguing opening. Blood Red City is about an investigative journalist falling foul of some very nasty villains as her investigation into a possible murder stumbles across a sinister financial conspiracy. Lydia Wright finds herself following leads that take her deep into the underbelly of the City of London money world. The story is instantly engaging and there’s plenty of jeopardy and edgy action to follow, but the sense that something even darker is just around the corner pervades the atmosphere of the novel. Blood Red City is topical, right up to the minute; modern London and the newspaper and finance worlds are deftly realised, Reynolds has an eye for telling detail. He also knows how to throw a curve ball at the reader and how to mask the denouement along the way. The story reminded me of something I read a few years ago:
‘The financial services industry based in the City of London facilitates a system that makes the UK the most corrupt nation in the world, the anti-mafia journalist Roberto Saviano said at the Hay festival.’ [From an article by Dan Carrier, Guardian, 29/5/16]
Saviano knows a thing or two about money trails and that’s the territory Reynolds takes us into in Blood Red City, London is awash with dirty money. This novel is a half a world and several decades away from the author’s earlier work. Rod Reynolds’ debut The Dark Inside was a very convincing noir set in Texarkana, America in 1946. It is based on the moonlight murders, an unsolved series of crimes that still haunts the community there today. Reynolds deftly weaves the story of his fictional journalist/investigator, Charlie Yates, into the real history. Two more very entertaining and authentic feeling Yates novels followed, well worth checking out if you are a fan of Americana or noir crime stories. Blood Red City is his first novel for Orenda, set in the present and it is very different in style and pace but still has the same narrative energy. Once again there’s a journalist at the heart of the action, a pleasant release from the usual police procedural model. Actually, Blood Red City is quite hard to define, it straddles a few sub-genres with ease, part financial thriller, part chase/adventure drama, part proto-detective tale. Make your own mind up:
The shadow of Grenfell still hangs over London but not for the party goers at the Consolidated News Media bash at the low-fi roof bar in Elephant and Castle tonight. Journalist, Lydia Wright has popped in to be seen, just to remind everyone she’s still with the paper, then she has to head off for her lone graveyard shift; celebrity news, back up for the showbiz team, American updates. Lydia still wants to be an investigative journalist but management demoted her for not spiking a story about corruption at City Hall. If to wasn’t for the money she’d kiss this job goodbye.
Lydia gets an anonymous email with a plea to watch the attached video, curiosity aroused she takes a look. It shows two men confronting another guy on a tube train. Suddenly one of the men punches the victim in the face, he falls to the floor, when he tries to get up the other man wades in. They hold the victim down, tape his mouth, and choke the life out of him. The victim convulses and bucks but he’s held firm, life draining away. When it’s done the killers spot a woman who has filmed what happened on her mobile phone. She runs, the footage is put up online.
Lydia gets a call from old friend Tammy, she sent the video clip. Tammy previously lost her job on the paper, she thinks this is the story that will get her back in the door and she wants Lydia to break it with her. They need to go carefully though, this all happened earlier tonight on the Northern line.
Michael Stringer is a fixer but this is the first time he’s worked for a killer. Ukrainian financier, Andriy Suslov is in that class of immigrant welcomed with open arms by the City, (lots of money so it doesn’t matter where it or he came from, there aren’t too many questions asked about foreign financiers with big wallets). Suslov wants Stringer to find dirt on Jamie Tan, a high flyer in the city. Stringer has been following Tan but tonight he’s gone missing.
Lydia investigates the crime scene. Nobody saw a thing, there’s no CCTV and no report of a violent assault. Could this be a prank? Fake news, a nonstory. The online video has been taken down and the witness is nowhere to be found. Is Lydia hunting for a body that doesn’t exist? Then a suspicious phone call makes her believe but it also spooks her. Lydia and her friend Tammy have no idea just how dangerous this investigation is about to get. Michael Stringer and Lydia Wright are about to cross paths.
Reynolds has a feel for his characters, it’s easy to believe in Lydia, a strong but flawed protagonist, Blood Red City is well researched, down to small throw away details that just add a touch of authenticity to the background. The conspiracy aspect of the story isn’t as dark and all pervasive as I would have liked personally but I think that’s a matter of style not quality. This is an exciting thriller, the chase across London to find answers, witnesses, and a body, is full on. Reynolds is a very good writer, now demonstrating his versatility. Fans of Holly Watt will love this tale.
Orenda Books, paperback, 9781913193249, 11/6/20
Blood Red City by Rod Reynolds.