Source: Review copy
Publication: 25 July 2019 from Simon and Schuster
In a small northern town, girls are disappearing.
You won’t see it in the papers and the police aren’t taking any notice, but the clues are there if you know where to look.
Becca sees that something is wrong, but she’s been labelled ‘difficult’ thanks to her troubled past. So when a girl is so savagely beaten she can’t be identified, and Becca claims she knows who she is, no one will believe her.
With the police refusing to listen, Becca digs for evidence that will prove what she is saying. But her search for justice will put herself and those closest to her in danger – and once she finds the truth, will anyone even listen?
Is there anything more dreary than an English seaside town out of season? Set along the Yorkshire coast principally in Bridlington and Whitby, Danuta Kot’s debut novel is a bleak consideration of some of the evils that pervade our society.
Jared Godwin used to love to explore caves and tunnels; now he is driven to do so despite almost crippling injuries to his back, sustained when his best friend died as a result of something he did. When we meet him, he’s living in a dump of a caravan on a run-down site, popping painkillers and contemplating his next dangerous exploring high.
Becca Armitage is a young woman who has not had to seek out trouble in her life. She’s suffered early for a young girl and was fortunate to meet Kay, a fosterer, who managed to inject some basic goodness into her life and help her to curb the worst of her anger issues. Becca had gone to college, but a malicious prank forced her to drop out and now she is working in a café which offers help to the homeless and vulnerable young people. It doesn’t pay much but she is surviving.
Kay is a widow, struggling to get over the death of her husband, Matt. A genuinely caring woman, she worries about Becca and tries to stay in contact with her.
Life Ruins is very much a character driven novel, focussing on what happens when the rightly untrusting Becca meets Jared and together they set out to find out what has been happening in the caves of Kettleness. The grim Yorkshire coastal landscape of empty winter seaside towns heavy with unemployment and the run down horrible caravan park gives the book much of its character and the bleakness and despair is vividly and authentically depicted.
Told in the third person, the book begins by depicting the lives of the three main protagonists and it does take a while for these lives to converge, linked by violent acts. When they do, the action part of the plot really takes off, though it does take some time to piece together the characters backstories and make sense of the plotting.
At the heart of this book is human drama; the reader roots for a badly served Becca with all her trust issues who never seems to have had a good turn from life since she was born. Watching her begin to form a relationship with Godwin and seeing her fight for the one person who has believed in her is what makes this book really work.
Kot’s writing is strong and her descriptive abilities excellent. Her plot is pretty conventional and somewhat of a slow burn. The bad guys are not terribly difficult to spot, but that should not detract from a solid book that has lots to interest the lover of crime fiction.
Verdict: A bleak tale of exploitation and courage against adversity, this is a solid debut from a writer to watch.
Danuta Kot grew up with stories. Her Irish mother and her Polish father kept their own cultures alive with traditional tales they shared with their children. For many years, she worked with young people in Yorkshire who were growing up in the aftermath of sudden industrial decline. She uses this background in her books to explore some of the issues that confront modern, urban society: poverty, alienation and social breakdown, using the contexts of the modern crime novel. She has previously written under the names, Danuta Reah and Carla Banks. Danuta was also a former chair of the Crime Writers’ Association. She now works as a senior education consultant, work that involves travel to establish education and training in other parts of the world. She is a regular academic speaker at conferences and literary festivals, and has appeared on radio and television.