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Once there was a Bassindale Farm, surrounded by two hundred acres of broadleaf woodland. In the 1950s planners cut into the green belt to provide subsidised housing, demolished the farm, cut down the trees, buried it all under concrete, and put houses and culs-de-sac on top. A sign 'WELCOME TO BASSINDALE' was regularly vandalised with graffiti until the council gave up the unequal struggle and stopped bothering to replace or clean it. At length, it read 'WELCOME TO ASSI D', after which someone had helpfully written the word ROW. Acid Row, everyone realised, somehow seemed a more appropriate name. It soon became a no-hope zone, indelibly associated with low literacy, drugs, fights, single mums and disenchanted teenagers.
Fast forward to the summer of 2001, and rumour has it that a known paedophile is being housed on the estate. The true facts have remained a closely guarded secret at the local Health Centre, and might have gone no further than that. Unfortunately Fay Baldwin, an old-fashioned and rather embittered senior health visitor who is not far from retirement, has let the cat out of the bag in a moment of impatience while reluctantly paying a call on Melanie Patterson, a teenage single mother with a habit of dressing in skimpy clothes that the elder generation consider intentionally provocative - and another baby conspicuously on the way. Dr Sophie Morrison, shortly to be married and much liked by nearly everybody except Fay, is friendly with the young mother, finds that the word is out and is horrified. Cue a furious message on Ms Baldwin's voicemail, threatening to have her committed if she ever goes near Melanie again.
At the same time, a ten-year-old girl, Amy Rogerson is missing. Everyone believes that the worst has happened. Has she been abducted by the nonce in their midst?
Fearful for the future of her little ones and all the other kids on the estate, Melanie decides that she will organise a protest march, aided by her admiring mother Gaynor. By a bizarre coincidence, Sophie has to go and visit an elderly Polish man with severe asthma on the estate. He lives there with his son. After she has examined the former, she is about to leave the house when she finds herself trapped there by a crowd, screaming and baying for blood, some armed with stones, others with Molotov cocktails. Only then does she find out that the son is the paedophile. Ironically the son, whose giving in to temptation destroyed a promising career, turns out to be a likeable, gentle soul, but obviously afraid of his father. The latter may be suffering from asthma, but turns out to be not nearly as weak or helpless as he pretends to be. He decides that this young and very pretty doctor is going to be easy prey. If she makes one false move, he will rape her and then kill her.
To find out more - just read the book.
WHAT DID I THINK?
Obviously, this was a very ugly story. With the riots of last summer an uncomfortably close memory, and with memories of hearing about similar violent unrest on the streets and seeing reports on TV at various times in the last thirty years, this story all brought it uncomfortably close. I was fortunate enough to live well away from them all, but I still found this tale pretty chilling. It all seemed horribly real at times. Ms Walters portrays the different worlds rubbing shoulders very effectively, from the middle-class world of the health visitors and the interrogations of a smooth-talking suspect in the police station believed to be responsible for abduction and child pornography, to the effing and blinding kids and teenagers on the estate with no future, and with no respect for human life, be it perverts, people of a different race, or innocent, helpless very young children who are unlucky enough to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. All hell breaks loose, the situation is out of control, the police force is desperately overstretched and cannot contain things, and if nobody is killed as the violence escalates, it will be a miracle.
Even so, I did find the parallel running of both plots a little messy. It was as if the author was trying to run two vaguely connected stories in tandem. For me it didn't quite work, and the business of Amy's disappearance eventually appeared rather tangential in comparison with the main centre of action, what was happening on the ill-starred estate. Moreover, after the gritty nightmare story that dominates most of the noveI, I thought there was something just a little too idealistic about the ending.
Nevertheless, to use a cliché, it was a compelling page turner. There were times when I found it difficult to put down as I was keen to know what was going to happen next.
Other reviews seen elsewhere have been very mixed, which is probably the test of a good book. For me it may have been flawed, but having finished this I'm sufficiently encouraged to recommend this, and try more by the same author.
I had heard Minette Walters' name mentioned often enough as a thriller writer, yet without having read or even knowing any of her books. This being the only one available on the shelves of the library where I work, I was happy to make a space for it on my reading list. From what I have found out elsewhere, most of her books are thrillers with a mainly middle-class setting. This one goes against the grain in having a very different theme.
[Revised version of a review I originally posted on ciao]
Acud Row is the 8th novel from award winning author Minette Walters. The author tackles sensitive subjects in the majority of her novels, and does so very skillfuly and with tact.
Acid Row is the name the inhabitants give to their 'sink' estate. It is full of single mothers and fathers, the unemployed, and the bigoted. It is here that Sophie Morrison, GP, must attend to one of her patients, but little does she know that she is entering the home of a known paedophile.
There are reports circulating that a young girl named Amy is missing, and with Sophie's entrance into the house, the plot unfolds bit by bit until the inhabitants of Acid Row rebel against the law, the community and their own, with startling consequences, and Sophie finds herself caught up in a dangerous situation with no way out.
Minette Walters has tackled a subject on dangerous ground here, but she does so very carefully so as to not go overboard. The subject of paedophilia is never more prevalent in discussions than today, and the housing of convicted paedophiles once sentencing has occurred is also a talking point. Here, Walters also blends in other frowned upon elements of society, such as yob culture and the controlling bullying of youths in council estates that the majority of the nation launch into stereotype.
The writing style is once again detailed from Walters' pen. Her previous seven novels show she pays attention to detail, and the novel is full of deep characterisation and emotional people. The rebellious nature of the estate dwellers seems so real on the page that I was left feeling drained of emotion by the end of the book. I am still not entirely sure how brilliant I thought the book. I was uncomfortable with the subject matter, but marvelled at the skill of the writing.
Brilliant writing but hard subject matter to read.
I rate this book at 4 stars out of 5.
The book is available from amazon.co.uk for £5.59.
This review may also be posted on ciao.co.uk.
Thanks for reading.
I don?t actually have any children but I know that a parents worst nightmare would become reality the minute they found out that a registered paedophile had been housed on their street... Melanie Patterson is a teenage mum of two with a third baby on the way. She lives on the suburban Bassindale Estate, more commonly known as ?Acid Row? by its residents. Created to provide subsidized housing for those people with low income, Bassindale began with all good intentions. Slowly but surely it became little more than a receptacle for societys rejects and is now home to the ?undesirables?....full of uneducated villains and a place where youths rule the roost with their fists and weapons whilst being in charge of drug pushing and prostitution. Young mothers are forced to bring up their children surrounded by violence and crime, and the elderly are afraid to leave their homes. The majority of Acid Rows residents might not be the nicest of people but when the safety of their children is concerned, they deserve a certain amount of respect. During a heated argument with a disgruntled social worker, a few careless words are spoken and the big secret is out. Melanie discovers that the authorities have rehoused a child molester somewhere on her street. Obviously very worried about the news she decides to confront her health visitor, Sophie Morrison, as the young community doctor is one of the only people who seems to care about the welfare of the estates inhabitants. Unfortunately Sophie is unaware of this information and denies all knowledge. This enrages Melanie even further as she feels that she is being lied to. If the local authorities have been irresponsible enough to house a beast like this on an estate full of kids then surely she should be given some answers....surely she has the right to know the truth! How would you feel if you
heard that a convicted paedophile was living virtually on your doorstep? It may be hard to imagine but it does happen. I think I am correct in saying that you would want to know who this person is as you would understandably want to protect your children. You would want this person out! Unconfirmed rumours begin to circulate within Acid Row. Due to the lack of communication Melanie is completely outraged by what she perceives as a direct threat to her offspring, so she organises a march - the idea being for mums and their youngsters to gather together in a peaceful protest about the pervert residing in their neighbourhood. In the meantime, a 10 year old child is reported as being missing. Although the little girl lives approximately 20 miles away from the estate, the local louts come to the assumption that this paedophile has got something to do with her disappearance. Unbeknown to Melanie, trouble is brewing. These wild accusations fuel the hooligans to join her on the demonstration....and turn it into a riot. They have an idea who the sicko is but it?s all a result of speculation. Are they pointing the finger of blame at the right person and if so, is he actually responsible for what they are accusing him of? Barricades go up at every entrance into the estate, dangerously preventing the police and emergency services from gaining access. The event rapidly gets out of control and complete bedlam inevitably ensues. From this point on the main story and its subplot are cleverly woven together to create a fast moving story with numerous layers of tension. The police begin to question people, including friends and family, in a desperate attempt to find the missing child. Every possible motive is examined to try to fathom exactly what has happened to her. At the same time all hell breaks loose on Acid Row. We are intro
duced to the paedophile and discover that he is severely emotionally repressed and deeply introverted....a result of living with his abusive, sadistic father for so many years. Sensing the approaching danger the pair decide to take a hostage to act as protection against the angry crowd surrounding their house. Not knowing about the hostage, the rioting continues with increasing aggresive behaviour, giving the impression that these people have been searching for any old excuse to start an uproar. And all because of pent up anger and emotions directed towards society in general, for reasons only known to themselves. Without giving too much of the plot away I will just tell you that the parallel stories continue and build up to an exciting but also horrific outcome with devastating and tragic consequences including inevitable fatalities. Acid Row is by no means a traditional thriller, therefore I feel that it perhaps may not appeal to all readers. Contemporary social elements form the strong theme of the story. It is a relevant reflection of present times and Minette Walters has tackled what I consider to be a brave subject in light of recent saddening events that have made the news headlines, and the seemingly increasing problem of paedophiles in our society. The reader is confronted with numerous modern day issues such as paedophilia, racism and drugs. Moralities and preconceptions are certainly questioned making it a thought provoking read. This is complimented by the authentic samples and excerpts of police reports and newspaper articles which are inserted throughout the book, a technique which adds a sense of drama and urgency to the story and also succeeds in maintaining suspense from start to finish. Walters utilises the grim setting of the Bassindale Esate as an impactful backdrop for this gritty thriller. The book is firmly placed in the working
class which in my opinion seems to be a bad point to a certain degree. I feel that Walters must have done research for this but some of it just doesn?t seem quite right. Particularly some of the characterisation and dialogue which at times comes across as cliched and emphasized so much that it?s a bit too stereotypical, almost verging on the offensive. This is not to say that the story isn?t well written though. It is and I couldn?t wait to find out what happened next! In typical Walters style psychological perceptions play a strong part in the visual storytelling. Instead of the usual individual character analogy the focus is on the accurate portrayal of the complex mob psychology which is present amidst the vigilante group. The reader is still able to distinguish basic personalities of the key characters, although you never manage to actually get into the head of any of the characters....viewing them from a distance and not delving much deeper than the surface. Character development is usually quite an important factor to me but in this instance I didn?t think that it was vital to the plot. The ending of the book is not quite what you would expect. There is a sad element but good does come out of it too. Heroes are found in the most unlikely of people and I was oddly disturbed to find that I actually began to feel a hint of sympathy towards the paedophile in this particular story. Read it for yourself to understand why! At first I wasn?t sure that I would like this book - partly due to its subject matter and the thought that I would be subjected to nasty scenes of child abuse but there aren?t any really. An impression is given when necessary but nothing more. I was also slightly put off by the the fact that it revolves around a series of events that occur over such a short period of time. I would usually get bored and find this k
ind of style monotonous but my interest was sustained throughout. The realism in the writing is convincing and creates a disturbing, sometimes harrowing tale with the description of some quite sickening scenes. Despite this, the book is gripping to say the least and the shock factor makes you realise that this sort of reaction could happen on your very own doorstep. As the cover says....bringing crime uncomfortably close to home. Cover price: £6.99 (available on Amazon for £5.59) Published by: Pan Books ISBN: 0 330 489461 Capital letters courtesy of: www.chuckleweb.co.uk/fixit.php
I am a huge fan of Minette Walters. She is a writer of psychological thrillers, with the emphasis very much on the psychological. She is (as am I) far more interested in the workings of the mind of a pervert/sociopath/murderer, or those of his/her victim, than the detective process/police chase/last minute catch and arrest scenario on which many thrillers are based. Because of this, her books are often deeply disturbing, but they are supremely intelligent and are thought-provoking, informative and very, very readable. Usually. Acid Row is her latest book, released in paperback in summer 2002. Acid Row itself is a 'sink estate', a council housing estate of sub-standard properties where society's most deprived people are dumped. The streets are patrolled by dealers, drunks and gangs of disaffected youths. The houses are populated by single mothers, jobless people, ailing pensioners and ex-cons. To add insult to injury, the authorities house a convicted paedophile in one of the houses, and word soon gets around. This happens at the same time as a local young girl goes missing. Residents decide to take the law into their own hands and stage a protest march. Trouble is, the protest march soon gets out of hand ? what should have been a peaceful demonstration is hijacked by drink and drug fuelled thugs - and the estate becomes a blockaded potential fireball where people are in danger of being crushed to death. Equally in danger is Doctor Sophie Morrison, one of the few people in authority who actually cares about the people in Acid Row. She has been called out on an emergency visit to the paedophile's home and finds herself taken prisoner by him and his violent father. They have been receiving abuse outside their house for some days and see Sophie as insurance against the danger they can feel is coming. It is while she is there that the streets are blockaded and the rioting begins. As
the story progresses, Sophie is subjected to acts of violence and abject terror as her captors refuse to let her go and the mob outside grow ever angrier. Outside, dreadful things are happening to the residents, too. Many are trampled, injured, burnt and crushed as the crowd becomes more and more incendiary. I will not spoil the book by going into further detail or giving away the ending. This book is quite a departure for Walters, concentrating as it does on a series of events that build to a (horrifying) crescendo in the mode of a typical thriller. We never really get inside the head of any of the characters, but view them from a distance as the book is written in the third-person and does not delve much deeper than the surface. The novel also strays from the usual Walters path in other respects. All the other Walters novels I have read have been very middle class. This one is firmly placed in the working class, even underclass, world. And I couldn't help feeling throughout that Walters doesn't know what she's talking about. I'm sure she did her research, but for me it just didn't ring true. This is especially evident in the dialogue, which I found clichéd, stereotypical, and at times a little embarrassing. It reminded me of those terrible representations of the 'chirpy cockney' or the 'eckythump northerner' we used to get on television before real Cockneys and Northerners started writing television scripts. I'm not trying to say that Walters' middle classness should prevent her from writing about other lifestyles. I just think that in this case it hasn't worked. Having said that, the book is a page-turner because of the action. I did want to know what happened next, and Walters managed to maintain suspense very well in both the riot and abduction parallel stories. The two characters in the paedophile house were superbly drawn and probab
ly the most unsavoury pair I have ever come across. In the abduction story, the characters were equally convincing and their complexities and multiple motives kept me guessing right until the end. And talking of the end, a word of warning. Do not expect to finish a Walters book on a high note. She is all too aware that in life there are not always happy endings, and that often life's events have no resolution. Overall, I have very mixed feelings about this book. I think it is Minette Walters' weakest one to date, but still readable if you can cope with the clichés and her attempts to deconstruct working class life. It is pacy, it is a page turner, it is tightly plotted, and it has intelligent and complex things to say about paedophilia, mass hysteria and humanity. If you're already a fan and you've read everything else, then try it. If you're new to Minette Walters, try the far superior The Scold's Bridle or The Shape of Snakes instead.
The name the beleaguered inhabitants give to their 'sink' estate. A noman's land of single mothers and fatherless children - where angry, alienated youth controls the streets. Into this battleground comes Sophie Morrison, a young doctor visiting a patient in Acid Row. Little does she know that she is entering the home of a known paedophile...