Review: The Informant by Susan Wilkins (4/5)

Thursday 13 November 2014
Corrupt cops. Ruthless criminals. Obsessive love.

Set in London and Essex, The Informant is a story of ruthless criminals, corrupt cops, obsessive love and the villainy that operates on both sides of the law.

As a drug-fuelled teenage tearaway, Kaz Phelps took the rap for her little brother Joey over a bungled armed robbery and went to jail.

Six years later she's released on licence. Clean and sober, and driven by a secret passion for her lawyer, Helen, Kaz wants to escape the violence and abuse of her Essex gangster family.

Joey is a charming, calculating and cold psychopath. He worships the ground Kaz walks on and he's desperate to get her back in the family firm. All Kaz wants is a fresh start and to put the past behind her.

When Joey murders an undercover cop, DS Nicci Armstrong is determined to put him behind bars. What she doesn't realize is that her efforts are being sabotaged by one of their own and the Met is being challenged at the highest level.

The final test for Kaz comes when her cousin, Sean, gets out of jail. He is a vicious, old-school thug and wants to show Kaz who is boss. Kaz may be tough enough to face down any man, but is she strong enough to turn her back on her family and go straight?

I usually ignore the quotes and comparisons on the front of books yet my proof copy described this as perfect for fans of Lynda La Plante and Martina Cole and having finished the book, I couldn't agree more. It has the brilliant police element that La Plante does so well, alongside the gritty gangster story that early Cole did so well. Susan Wilkins is a television writer turned novelist, and that's something I usually enjoy as you often get the best of both worlds. Television writers bring with them the ability to give a nice flow to the novel, and have chapters ending on cliffhangers in much the same way a television episode would. At times this was like an 18 rated soap opera, only better.

The main family in the book are the Phelps and our introduction to son Joey is of a boy turned man who enjoys inflicting pain on people, and loves murder. Nothing gives him greater pleasure in life than killing. The police have been after him for the longest time, however when he kills an undercover police officer their hunger to take him down only intensifies and plans are made to find an informant that will help destroy both him and his criminal empire. Joey is an evil character and given that I've read the books of Kimberley Chambers, Jessie Keane and Martina Cole is saying something, as they have created some brilliant villains. Often people put blame on families, or how a person was brought up yet I believe some people are just born evil, and Joey is one such person. DS Nicci Armstrong has a personal connection to the case, and wants him brought to justice more than most. She gets her own thread to the story which makes for some exciting twists along the way.

Kaz is Joey's sister, about to be released from prison for a crime that Joey committed. Her plans are to go straight and live a normal life, however Joey has other ideas and wants Kaz to pick up where she left off and he has big plans for the family business and they all include her. Kaz was a likeable character from the off despite all that she's done you can see she does want to turn her life around, but at times that life is all that she knows and it does make for some gut-wrenching decisions for her along the way. Add in a police officer determined to turn Kaz against Joey and sexual tension between Kaz and her lawyer Helen and she's about to find out that life on the outside is going to be anything but quiet. Things take a turn for the worse for both Kaz and Joey when their cousin Sean is released from prison, with their father unable to run the business Sean wants to take control of what he feels is rightfully his and this is when the story really picks up and gets going.

The book is full of realistic and believable characters. Characters who in other circumstances might have had very different lives, however the life they have been born into has led them down only one path. In books like this it's important not to trust anybody, and I certainly don't. Especially the characters that we are meant to trust, as experience has shown that they are often the ones to watch. Kaz was a favourite character of mine throughout, I really wanted her to overcome her demons and go on to live the life she so obviously craved, that said however it would have made for a boring story and so there are so many exciting and thrilling twists and turns that I honestly struggled to put the book down. I did feel at times however that some of the dialogue didn't suit the characters, certain things especially with Joey just didn't seem like things you would expect a gangster to say, that said though it didn't happen often but was very noticeable when it did.

The characters are all well established and we are told a lot about their past but what was missing for me was flashbacks, as that is something this genre does so well. I like it when we get whole chapters going back in time rather than just having events alluded to briefly. It allows you to really understand the characters more. What I also like is when London almost becomes a character in itself. Wilkins creates a very gritty but believable London, showing its seedier side and putting us right inside its underworld. A world which for the longest time held almost an allure of glamour, yet we now know that the world is anything but glamorous. Full of unsavoury characters who make it almost impossible to escape once you are part of its world. In fact the only way to escape might be to turn informant...

I really didn't want to put this book down and found myself annoyed when I had to. Once you get started it is an incredibly addictive read, the latter half especially as all the threads to the story start to join together as we race towards a very dramatic finale. I could see the pages dwindling but found myself hoping more would miraculously appear. I wasn't ready to finish the story and after the shocking cliffhanger that the book ends on, the sequel, The Mourner, cannot come quick enough. Wilkins' experience is evident from the very first page, making this one of the most exciting debuts of the year and certainly one of the best I've read in 2014. This book comes highly recommended by me.

Thanks to the publisher for the review copy.

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