John Rickards writes books and tells lies and if you call him Sean Cregan he’ll usually answer. He blogs at The Nameless Horror, where you can – and definitely should – get copies of his books, including the outstanding dystopian actioner All You Leave Behind.
John’s pick is The Killing Jar, by Nicola Monaghan…
If I was to outline the basic elements of a story like so: child of a smack-addict prostitute on a council estate, slow rise up the local shitty crime ladder from helping mum’s clients hide their stashes to dealing speed to schoolkids, domestic violence, alcohol abuse, teenage pregnancy, desire to either rise to the top or get out entirely, blah blah blah, you might be expecting one of those terribly worthy inner-city London dramas on Channel 4.
But this is not that. This is set in Nottingham.
Joking aside, it’s a world apart. In fact, The Killing Jar is something that most of this type of story should really aspire to. I’m aware that I’m in the minority, but I hated Requiem For A Dream. Awful characters failing to do much and getting ludicrously ruined because DRUGS ARE BAD. Lose an arm, have ECT, bring out the dildo. Roll credits. Hated it. This, this right here, is what Requiem could and should have been. It covers, superficially, similar ground, but does so with far more grace, nuance and grounding. Those involved are sympathetic (though, as in real life, never entirely so), and their lives feel genuine.
The main character, Kerrie-Ann, like the supporting cast, has proper, realistic depth to her, neither a hero nor a villain, victim or abuser, but both by turns. Her story is horribly miserable — the potted version has her mum vanish, leaving her to look after herself and her little brother, her getting involved with her boyfriend’s shitty estate criminal family doing petty stuff (and selling speed to kids at school), before he and her establish themselves as up-and-comer pill suppliers for the local rave scene, a move which eventually turns bad. She has a (genuinely harrowing) induced miscarriage at, as I recall, 16, because she didn’t quit her pill-popping, drink and coke ways, trying to kid herself she wasn’t pregnant, cleans up her act but loses her little brother to the crappy life she’s surrounded by, and her boyfriend turns into an abusive cock with violent tendencies and wild, drug-induced mood swings.
Awful stuff, no? But the book, written in the most unaffected local speech I think I’ve read in text, never gets sucked into EverythingIsBadsville. There are flashes of brightness, better days and good spells. No one, even the boyfriend, is completely awful, because by and large people aren’t. The estate isn’t a hell hole but a home and a community, even if everyone in it knows it’s pretty lousy, because that’s how they are. The drugs are mostly just drugs rather than the ultimate evil, because that’s what they are. And the ending, which I won’t spoil suffice it to say that it looks like she’s going to do one thing when her brother’s run, beyond her ability to save, and she’s had enough of the boyfriend, only to change her mind and do something completely different, is gently and welcomingly upbeat.
This is proper, real social fiction, beautifully told. It was also Monaghan’s debut. I can’t understand why it didn’t make more waves, but it certainly deserves a look from anyone with any interest in modern urban life or who thinks that the Daily Mail’s portraits of poor city culture or estate life are chillingly accurate.
– John Rickards
The Criminal Classics series was prompted by a post which originally appeared at Crime Fiction Lover.