Thursday, 7 January 2016

New Thriller set in Nottingham

Shortlisted for The Virginia Prize for Fiction, and hailed by The Telegraph as one of the year’s best crime fiction books, Jaq Hazell’s I Came To Find A Girl happens to be set in Nottingham.

The opening line: "I was happy to hear Flood was dead. I wasn't as happy as I thought I'd be, but I was happy all the same."
The aforementioned Flood is Jack Flood, bad boy of the London art world. The protagonist is Mia Jackson, an art student from the south-coast now living with four fellow students in a Victorian terrace in Forest Fields. If you’re expecting bad boy Flood and the rather likable young artist/waitress to follow a turbulent road to unlikely romance you’d be wrong. Flood is instantly dislikeable, a narcissistic modern artist, but it gets worse: he has the kind of dangerously crazed and unpredictable personality suited to a psychological thriller, a genre that embraces this novel.

Flood intends to seek out the ‘real’ Nottingham, ‘where the people live’, and asks for Forest Fields, St Ann’s, the Meadows and our 'binge-drinking' city centre. His taxi driver warns him, saying ‘there are shootings there’ and citing Nottingham as a ‘crazy city’. I wouldn’t have been surprised to have read that horrible shottingham word. But this book isn’t an underresearched hatchet job on the back of a few negative headlines. Hazell captures the city well, providing the small town feel and representing the student experience with authenticity, no doubt helped by her years here studying textile design. The streets of the Lace Market and Market Square in particular are fondly regaled.  
The most haunting crimes are those events where an ordinary victim suffers through no fault of their own, and this applies here. After having a drink with Flood, Mia wakes up face down, naked and confused in his hotel room. She needs to know what’s happened to her and is compelled to watch Flood’s video diaries, wondering if she is going to be the next to appear on screen.

Crime novels are nearly always murder novels. Murder sells. And murder or murders are afoot here as Nottingham appears to have a serial killer on the loose. But Mia’s story has a different crime at its core, an underrepresented one on account of its sensitivity. Publishers know that murders are rare, and that they won’t find a direct murder victim amongst their readers, but date-rape… a difficult subject to pitch to publishers that don’t want to portray this underreported crime. Perhaps they think that people affected by rape will not want to read about it in the form of a thriller. And perhaps they’re right. In defence of this book, the date-rape is an important part the story and the novel explores the downside to the greater sexual freedom brought about by feminism. At no point is its telling gratuitous and the importance of an early reporting of date-rape is made clear.

Warnings over sex tapes and revenge porn may be topical but what if consent for such footage was never given in the first place - another often ignored crime in this contemporary tale.

Mia and her friends seek out the truth behind their friend Jenny’s death whilst Mia has another agenda. Revenge. And Flood is in her sights.
Our creative quarter is an apt setting for Mia’s studies and socialising. She’s a believable/typical student and displays many of the traits one associates with ‘creatives’, more so than the professional artist Flood. It’s Mia’s story, 1st person narration, with Flood’s videos described as they’re watched. The weird world of modern art (and the people that create, appraise, promote and buy it) is examined in an insightful manner. Celebrity culture and the public’s obsession with it is evident, whilst tabloids, fame without talent, and the modern trend for recording mundane aspects of our lives are all targets.  
This is a well-written psychological thriller that isn’t afraid to break the rules.





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