Diamond by Jessie Keane: Full-on, eye-watering entertainment from start to finish - book review -
With her raven black hair, velvet soft skin and striking violet-coloured eyes, Diamond Butcher possesses the beauty and the power to bewitch any man.
But Diamond was born into a London gangland family in the early years of the 20th century and when her violent uncle takes over as the mob’s boss, she is forced to flee for her own safety to Paris where her destiny might be decided by one disastrous event.
Welcome to the back streets of Soho and the thrilling, chilling world of gangland crime created by Queen of the Underworld Jessie Keane who has found a new and exciting time and place for an epic drama starring an unforgettable heroine.
Keane, who was born into Romany gypsy stock and has herself lived at both ends of the social spectrum, has a wicked eye for the ruthless, fiercely factional criminal underworld and her books never fail to pack a powerful punch.
And after her gripping and gory Ruby Darke series set in 1980s London, Keane winds back the clock to the period after the end of the First World War when young men returned from the battlefields and Soho was a mecca not just for its eclectic nightlife but a vicious brand of gang warfare.
In 1909, gang leader Warren Butcher was forced to flee to Paris when a gang called the Austrian Wolfe crew came to London and snatched away his business. However, it wasn’t all bad for Warren because he met and married exotic-looking artist’s model Frenchie and between them they enjoyed a deliriously happy Parisian life, got rich, and had three children, including a loving and beautiful daughter called Diamond.
But when Gustav Wolfe, leader of the Austrian Wolfe gang, expands his ‘firm’ across the Channel to Paris, Warren again has to run – or die – taking his family back to old and familiar ground in Soho.
Frenchie fears Gustav will hound them until their ‘dying day’ and she is proved right when Warren is killed in a brutal street attack. Diamond might only be eleven but her mother’s rage and sorrow ‘seep’ into her and she swears that when she grows up she will have her revenge on the Wolfe mob, a gang of men who are ‘bad to the bone.’
But first she has to suffer cruelty and abuse from her Uncle Victor who has taken over the Butcher Boys. An unpredictable bully – whose seeming calm can quickly erupt into terrifying rages – he is training Diamond to shoplift.
Desperate to escape his clutches, Diamond changes her name to Diamond Dupree and travels to Paris to become an artist’s model like her mother, but the world there is different to what she had been led to believe and she soon falls on hard times.
Once again Diamond has to make an escape, this time back to her family in London, but she leaves behind her a mystery, and a dead man, that will set the clock ticking.
Back home in Soho, Diamond reluctantly rejoins the family ‘firm’ she had once been glad to leave behind. And having grown tougher during her time in Paris, she soon becomes a force to be reckoned with, a feared and respected gangland queen.
But the sharp-edged Diamond has a soft spot… Richard Beaumont, the handsome and kind youngest son of a wealthy aristocratic family, who has captured her heart. And when her past finally catches up with her, can she escape the long arm of the law and the hangman’s noose?
Every story that Keane writes transports her readers into the heart of a terrifying but addictive underworld, and into the lives of people of every shade… from loving, loyal and devoted to fearsome, merciless and downright evil.
And this cracking page-turner is certainly packed with Keane’s trademark cast of larger-than-life characters – each superbly fleshed out and each inhabiting a world so palpably real that we can feel the menace, see the darkness lurking in the shadows, and sense the fear, the loathing and the breathtaking brutality that is only ever a heartbeat away.
At the centre of all the action is our shining star, Diamond, a beautiful but strong woman whose determination and resilience, and love and care for her family, lend an intensely human and emotional credibility to her rollercoaster journey from London to Paris and back again.
Brimming with drama, suspense, cruelty and the kind of gobsmacking violence that has made Keane one of the most powerful writers in contemporary crime fiction, this is full-on, eye-watering (of every kind!) entertainment from start to finish.
(Hodder & Stoughton, hardback, £14.99)