All Us Sinners (Katy Massey) – book review

Katy Massey draws on her own family history as the basis for her downbeat and gritty debut crime novel All Us Sinners. The book is set in Leeds, in the North of England, in the late 1970s, during the reign of terror of the killer who came to be known and The Yorkshire Ripper, All Us Sinners effectively captures the darkness of the times in which it is set.

Maureen runs Rio’s, a brothel in one of the rougher areas of Leeds. Maureen and her staff are all on alert as someone is killing prostitutes with a hammer. But the death that drives this story is not one of those, it is the killing of the son of one of Maureen’s workers, Bev. Bev’s husband Tony is a local small time drug dealer but his son was a gentle soul who was loved by everyone. Maureen wants to help and soon finds herself working for DS Mitch Hunniford, a local policeman who she has known since she was a teenager. In a milieu that distrusts the police Maureen finds herself walking a fine line but finds that she enjoys being an investigator.

All Us Sinners is an extremely downbeat crime novel. A sense of fear and danger pervades every page with the spectre of the Ripper lurking in the shadows. And all of the characters are struggling or compromised in some way. But this adds to the atmosphere that Massey successfully builds and a sense of the time and place.

The character of Maureen is a fascinating one and, as mentioned, based on Massey’s own family history. Maureen runs a successful, necessary and in some ways respected business, but one that is frowned upon when society requires it. But she also wants more from life and sees in the work she does for Hunniford a chance to seize that. At the same time she continues to deal with the repressed trauma of the disappearance of her mother when she was in her teens.

All Us Sinners is an interesting debut in which the solution of the mystery is not as a interesting as the way Massey gets there and the society that she exposes along the way. Massey ends with a potential promise of more from Maureen and her world particularly with the Ripper still at large. But it is a dark time and a dark world and one which some readers may decide is best left in the past.

Robert Goodman
For more of Robert’s reviews, visit his blog Pile By the Bed

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