Review: Blood Red City

Rod Reynolds – Blood Red City

Published by Orenda Books, paperback £8.99. I received a proof copy from the publisher for review purposes.

Rod Reynolds set his first three novels, a series, in America in the 1940s. All of them slices of pure period noir with a modern eye to pace and characterisation, they are well worth seeking out. Blood Red City, however, is a completely different creature: a chase thriller set in contemporary London.

Journalist Lydia Wright, demoted to the showbiz overnight online shift after a previous story got too hot to handle, is sent a video of an apparent murder on a Tube train. The sender, a former colleague, found the footage on social media – and she knew the apparent victim; he was a source about to disclose information to her about money laundering. Across the city, Michael Stringer is leaning on a London Assembly member via the use of compromising emails and photos of him with a teenage girl. Politician suitably manipulated, he heads to his last task of the night: after a deep dive into the life and data of equities trader Jamie Tan, raking for all the dirt on behalf of a shadowy Ukranian financier, it’s time to present Tan with his options – do as you’re told, or else.

Lydia is looking for a murder victim. Stringer is looking for a banker. They are, of course, looking for the same man. But even when Stringer gets hold of the information Lydia has, and they both start digging further, things are far from straightforward…

As with every big city, London is less one cohesive whole and more a collection of villages and communities pushed together. Reynolds shows us all the contrasts – the shiny offices where Lydia works and the shabby takeaways around her flat; the opulence of the world Stringer’s client helicopters into and the casual violence the investigator and Lydia encounter at ground level. The sights and scents of the city jump off the pages and into your head – the grimy heat of the summer; the Tube rides and taxi trips; the shining lights of London at night. It’s the most perfectly realised sense of place I’ve read in a long time.

Chase thrillers have to be all about pace, and Reynolds knows that – a little action here to propel us along, a gut punch there to remind us of the stakes. But the level of control is consummate: there’s never too much, never too little, it’s always just right. However, this is also a novel deeply interested in character and place, and it uses a spare, fluid style to bring tension and show drama. Reynolds brings the 40s stylings of his previous novels to modern London and has created something at once heartfelt, slick and cinematic.

The steady tension winds up to an ending that isn’t as explosive as you might expect but satisfies with a kind of justice meted out for some as well as showing the reality that others will always escape justice. And there’s a tiny hint that maybe, just maybe, this isn’t the end of the story, which left me very happy.

Money-laundering. Russian oligarchs. A fall guy. White collar crime meets casual violence. Outside interference putting a spanner in the works. Links to the past. Who do you trust? Who *should* you trust? This is an exemplary book that deserves all the plaudits that can be tossed its way. The move back to the modern UK from 40s America has invigorated Reynolds – I can’t wait to see what he does next.

You can follow the author on Twitter here: @Rod_WR

See Rod Reynolds being interviewed by Jacky “Dr Noir” Collins as part of The Doctor Will See You Now on YouTube here: www.youtube.com/watch?v=MPDNQbHSoUg

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