Minette Walters is a natural storyteller and has a reputation for writing tightly plotted, cleverly woven, gritty suspense thrillers. She has a keen eye for creating believable characters, a gift for dazzling detail, and a knack for creating interesting maze-like plots. ACID ROW, her newest contribution to the genre, is one of her best.
Acid Row is the nickname for a housing project, known as Bassindale Estates, in a small suburb of London. The population is comprised mostly of single mothers with small children; elderly pensioners, alone, afraid, and waiting to die; and the drug dealers who have made this conclave a very dangerous place.
Walters uses this grim setting as a backdrop to tell the story of a missing 10-year-old girl, Amy Biddulph; Sophie, a young doctor taken as a hostage by the father of a known pedophile; Melanie, a feisty young woman trying desperately to keep her small family together; and Jimmy, a brave young man who transcends his criminal background to become a hero. The book begins with a chilling description of the aftermath of a riot that has left devastation and death in its wake.
"The riot lost momentum as news of the butchery spread throughout the estate. The details were vague. No one knew how many had been killed or how, but castration, lynching and a machete were all mentioned." Walters goes on to write, "Collective guilt was felt, if not openly expressed…no one [would admit being there] to face retribution for murder. [Especially]…The youths on the barricades who held the police at bay with gasoline bombs."
The trouble started when a vicious social worker told Melanie, the mother of two toddlers, that a child molester had been relocated to the project. The young woman is outraged at what she perceives as a direct threat to her children. With the help and support of other mothers, she spreads the word and plans an ad hoc protest march. Everything was supposed to be calm and controlled. "Plans had been made to converge on Humbert Street that Saturday afternoon to force the police to move the perverts out...[But]…Naturally no one bothered to inform the police of their plan."
In the meantime, nobody realizes that their beloved Dr. Sophie has been taken hostage in the apartment of the alleged pedophile. He is a relatively passive man who lives with his psychotic father and it is he, the psychopath, who wants Sophie to himself.
And, so, when a crazed teenager high on drugs and alcohol decides to "burn" the bugger out, chaos and tragedy result. Under the influence of this young criminal, an "army" of thugs invade like savages, with no thought to the consequences of their violent takeover. They believe the "dangerous" pedophile has the missing 10-year-old, Amy Biddulph, hidden in his flat. Nobody has any idea that Dr. Sophie is the hostage.
In the critical mass of misinformation, the release of repressed anger, and the influence of lager and assorted mind altering drugs, a battle of incredible proportion ensues. "The headlines the next morning --- 29 July --- were lurid. 'Alcohol-crazed lynch mob goes on the rampage'…'Sex pervert butchered'…'Five hours of savagery leaves 3 dead, 189 injured…'"
Walters has shaped a fascinating tale of poverty, of desperation, and of the lengths people feel forced to go, when living in neglected, government housing, under conditions of inhuman proportions. Without missing a beat she has portrayed these people and the events that push them over the edge, with every syllable arranged in a well-paced rhythm. This is Walters's eighth novel, and she reaches even loftier heights than before. ACID ROW will rivet fans and new readers alike.
Reviewed by Barbara Lipkien Gershenbaum on January 20, 2011