Source: Review copy
Publication: 16 February 2023 from Viper Books
My thanks to Viper Books for an advance copy for review
Maria is a good woman and a good cleaner. She cleans for Elsie, the funny old bird who’s losing her marbles, with the terrible husband. She cleans for Brian, the sweet man with the terrible boss. She cleans for the mysterious Mr Balogan, with the terrible neighbours.
If you’re thinking of hiring her, you should probably know that Maria might have killed the terrible husband, the terrible boss and the terrible neighbours. She may also have murdered the man she loved.
She didn’t set out to kill anyone, of course, but her clients have hired her to clean up their lives, and she takes her job seriously – not to mention how much happier they all are now. The trouble is, murder can’t be washed out. You can only sweep it under the carpet, and pray no one looks too closely…
I loved Tina Baker’s previous book, Nasty Little Cuts and I’m very pleased that Make Me Clean has the same sharp prose, brilliantly drawn characters and acute observations.
This is Maria’s story and we move back and forth in time and as we learn more about her life, why she chooses to wear a buzz cut and how she came to be a domestic cleaner.
Maria’s life has been turbulent, to say the least. She’s lived in caravans, even for a while in the Basque country, and now she spends her nights in a small bedsit, or overnight caring for Elsie, an elderly woman with dementia for whom she also cleans.
Maria is both an exceptionally diligent cleaner and a caring person. Her clients like her because she gets on with the job and also offers a non-judgmental listening ear when they need to spill their woes. She gets on well with her clients because she isn’t obtrusive but at the same time she is there is they need to vent.
Maria really Likes Elsie, a wicked, funny old lady who might be suffering from memory issues, but who is still and excellent judge of character with a delightfully sarcastic turn of phrase. Sometimes she’s like a naughty child. At others she can be frightened and bewildered, but Maria loves Elsie and her cats. Maria and Elsie share a secret; but Maria wonders how long it will be before Elsie blurts it out.
I think what attracts me to Tina Baker’s writing is that she tells it like it is. She is not one for sugar coating and in this novel she deals with some dark themes including control, toxic masculinity and domestic violence. But into this dark and often menacing mix, she adds tenderness, caring and a lot of laughter.
Make Me Clean is a delicious concoction of marigolds and murder. Maria is a three dimensional character with warmth, She has been through a lot for one so young and she may now be poor and alone, but she is no-one’s pushover. If anything, her empathy for her clients gets her in more of the hot water that she’s so used to.
Verdict: Dark, sometimes brutal, honest and yet full of wit and warmth, Make Me Clean is another gripping read from Tina Baker.
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Tina Baker was brought up in a caravan after her mother, a fairground traveller, fell pregnant by a window cleaner. After leaving the bright lights of Coalville, she came to London and worked as a journalist and broadcaster for thirty years. She’s probably best known as a television critic for the BBC and GMTV. She has written three books Call Me Mummy was Tina’s first novel, followed by Nasty Little Cuts and now Make Me Clean.