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Cole, Martina - 'Close'
Trade Paperback: 512 pages (Oct. 2006) Publisher: Hachette Livre Australia ISBN: 0755328604

Meet Lily. Lily is the wife of London gangster Patrick Brodie, and the mother of a tribe of children fathered by several men. CLOSE follows the story of two generations of the family living in the violent gangland world of London from the 1960s through to the nineties.

CLOSE follows the fortunes of the family by chronicling Lil's life. Born into a poor household with indifferent and sometimes neglectful parents, Lil meets Patrick at the age of fifteen and is married to him by sixteen. Lil's status rises with Patrick's success in the underworld and falls again upon his murder at the hands of rivals.

This is a case where the author would have been well served by using the "less is more" philosophy. For example, three pages are devoted to Patrick's infidelities, when he's unfaithful, his attitude towards the women, how his wife feels about him cheating. It's just too much. One paragraph would have been sufficient. Another instance is the murder of Patrick on his son's birthday. Men rush into the house and repeatedly stab and beat him to death in front of his wife and children. The author relates this event, and then proceeds to retell it from the point of view of several people present. The problem with this is that she is merely restating the same thing with slightly different wording. The reader is offered no new insights into the event. Handled differently, it could have been a brutally stunning passage. However any impact the violence might have had is dulled by this heavy handed overkill.

Author Martina Cole seems to know about the sub-culture of which she writes, and the story could give the reader a real glimpse into this culture of crime. However, plot is a bit thin on the ground and predictable and the characters are one-dimensional shadows of what they could have been. In fact, I didn't care for most of them at all. There was little to like about them and nothing to admire. The book also suffers from being about two hundred pages too long. Martina Cole has many fans. I hope CLOSE doesn't disappoint them as it did me.

One last thing. By page 100, my copy of the book had started to come adrift from the spine and pages were falling out. I'm reasonably careful with the books I read, I don't turn down the pages and I don't bend back the spine. I was lucky: the publishers very kindly gave me a copy of CLOSE to review. Had I paid the retail price of Aus$32.95, I would have been most unhappy to find the book falling apart just one quarter of the way through reading it.

Sunnie Gill, Australia
December 2006

last updated 1/12/2006 20:37