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Book Review: Sirens by Joseph Knox

Sirens is a new voice in urban noir and a book that’s set in Manchester rather than London, for a welcome change. I suspect even if you know Manchester well, and I don’t at all, it won’t be the Manchester that features in this debut novel from Joseph Knox. At least, I hope it isn’t. For while there are bars and a penthouse apartment in Sirens, the majority of its action and characters all exist in the shadows, the dark underbelly of partying and clubbing.

It starts with the girl. How it ends is up to DC Aidan Waits.

Isabelle Rossiter has run away again.

When Aidan Waits, a troubled junior detective, is summoned to her father’s penthouse home – he finds a manipulative man, with powerful friends.

But retracing Isabelle’s steps through a dark, nocturnal world, Waits finds something else. An intelligent seventeen-year-old girl who’s scared to death of something. As he investigates her story, and the unsolved disappearance of a young woman just like her, he realizes Isabelle was right to run away.

Soon Waits is cut loose by his superiors, stalked by an unseen killer and dangerously attracted to the wrong woman. He’s out of his depth and out of time.

How can he save the girl, when he can’t even save himself?

When Sirens opens, Aidan Waits is back on the force but working the graveyard shift: taken back into the fold but kept at a distance, and still not trusted by his colleagues. And the fact that he’s not your typical hero, but someone who is not only flawed but more ambiguous that that, is one of the reasons I enjoyed reading this book so much. You’re never quite sure where you are with him: is he working for the police, or the drug lord whose inner circle he’s trying to be admitted to, or the politician who asks him for a favour, or himself, or trying to cater to all those interests in his own way? How will he keep juggling those competing demands without getting himself into even hotter water than he’s already in: disgraced and an outcast, he doesn’t seem to have many friends left in the force, and a boss who’s losing patience with him.Which side of the law is he, and will he stay there? Add into the mix his attempts to do right by one young girl and his obvious attraction to another, and he’d have his hands full sober. But this guy isn’t, and he’s dabbling (rather heavily) in a heady cocktail of drink and drugs.

You can feel Aidan Waits losing his identity, wonder if he really is or if that’s for show, to add credibility to his role as disgraced policeman turning to a more profitable life; you can see how easy it is for someone playing a role to become that person: the lines between being undercover and his new lifestyle blur for the character as much for the reader and I had a hard time distinguishing between what Aidan was doing as part of an investigation, what he felt he had to do, and where he was being dragged under by the world he now inhabits. It’s unsettling reading the book, as I felt as much drawn into the world of Sirens as Aidan is himself, and that world is as unstable as some of the drugs it deals in. It’s hard to see a way out for him (or anyone else) that doesn’t mean a bad end. This uncertainty and gritty realism all add to the tension which kept me reading long after I should have turned out the light.

The world of Sirens is a continually shifting place, one where you won’t ever know who to trust, who to believe, or where loyalties really lie. It’s a criminal underworld where, despite being the Sirens of the title, girls are dispensable and interchangeable, useful couriers and companions, and where even if you’re a man, you’ll have to scramble hard to keep any kind of foothold. The world of Sirens is dark and nebulous, helping you realise and perhaps also understand how people can be subsumed by it. All of which makes Sirens a compelling and claustrophobic read, which will have you in a chokehold from beginning to end.

Sirens is Joseph Knox’s debut novel and it is published by Doubleday today as an ebook, an audiobook and in hardback. You can read an extract from Sirens here and you can buy it from Amazon UK, Audible UK, Foyles, Hive (supporting your local independent bookshop) and Waterstones. Follow Joseph on Twitter

I requested a review copy of Sirens through the Amazon Vine programme. 

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