I picked this up because of the title, taken as it obviously is from an early song by my favourite band. I bought it because it is set in and around the famous anti-Nazi festival in Victoria Park in London. Or at least it starts there.
Though that’s not quite true. It starts even closer to home for me: my kids' primary school is mentioned early on, and many other streets, pubs, takeaways and landmarks that still exist are visited.
Joe Thomas was born in 1977, so he’s doing this from research, not memory, but it captures the area very well, and the time — well, from what I know of those times in London, I think he’s done a great job.
It’s not mainly about the music scene, though. Thomas is a crime writer, and this is, kind of, a crime novel. And becomes more so as it goes on, and jumps to 1983. As you might imagine, given the notoriety of Stoke Newington Police Station of the time, it’s about bent coppers. And one more-or-less decent cop who is — we think — trying to bring them down.
I say ‘We think’, because it’s not finished. It turns out it’s the start of a trilogy, with Red Menace and True Blue to follow. This one was only published this year, so I guess it’ll be a while before we see the followups.
It’s all pretty good. It uses a slightly odd, cut-up sort of style: half sentences, fragments ending in dashes. But it’s very readable. As I say, I was drawn to it by the music and the locations, but I enjoyed spending time with the characters, and the situation is compelling. Real life events are stitched into fictional ones (or vice-versa).
Unsurprisingly, then, it’s a very political book. And surprisingly Thatcher turns up as a character. I’m not sure why Thomas choose to do that. Maybe since most of the characters are on the left, it was to provide some sort of balance. Why not go as far up and right as possible, I suppose. I don’t mean Thatcher is the furthest-right person in it, to be fair: the National Front are heavily involved, too.
The main police character is running ‘spycops’, and has operatives inside both the NF and the loose coalition of groups that oppose them (the Anti-Nazi League, Rock Against Racism, the Socialist Workers' Party). I expect as the series goes on we’ll see some version of the scandals around that whole business, too.