When gang leader Paddy O’Brien is stabbed in his brother’s famous nightclub, Manchester’s criminal underworld is shaken to the core. Tensions are running high, and as the body count begins to grow, the O’Brien family must face a tough decision – sell their side of the city to the infamous Boddlington gang or stick it out and risk losing their king. But war comes easy to the bad boys, and they won’t go down without a fight. So begins a fierce battle for the South Side, with the leading Manchester gangsters taking the law into their own hands – but only the strongest will survive…
As she crossed the room behind Paddy, the animated chatter calmed almost instantly to a low, mournful thrum. Everybody took a respectful step back to let the great King Patrick advance to his rightful place next to Frank, who was standing by the white and gold coffin – its lid mercifully closed now that the Vigil had taken place. Sheila had been amazed that her nephew had been made to look like he was just sleeping off a good night in Ibiza. Appearing rather worse for wear than his dead son, however, Frank now looked like he had spent the night at the bottom of a bottle of vodka. Paddy slapped him across the back and cleared his throat, his eyes darting across the room, as though he didn’t know how to react to a man who unashamedly displayed the visible pain of the bereaved.
‘Sheila,’ Frank said, his chin dimpling up and the corners of his mouth turning downwards. He embraced her warmly, leaking hot tears onto her neck. Poor bastard.
‘We’re here for you, Frank,’ she said, beckoning her girls close so that they should also show their uncle moral support. Casting an eye over the scores of O’Brien cousins, uncles, aunties, dressed to impress. ‘Your family’s all here.’
He shook his head too energetically. Wiped his eyes on the cuff of his jacket.
‘Jack was my fucking family,’ he said, hammering his chest with a nicotine-stained index finger. ‘I lost everything when I lost my boy.’
He directed a bitter stare towards Paddy.
Frank staggered out behind the coffin towards the waiting cortege that lined the leafy side-street. The gleaming black funeral limousine and hearse stood out among vehicles of relatives and pimped-up rides of Jack’s inner circle and O’Brien firm lackeys.
People thronged the street, as if it were a state burial – the men nodding respectfully and the women offering sympathetic smiles to Frank. Dressed in a fine black suit and slim tie, he looked the part, but Sheila could see from the pitch and roll of his walk and his bowed posture that e was drowning on the inside. A ship threatening to capsize. She linked arms with him, pleased to swap Paddy – who was too preoccupied with shaking the hands of his acolytes to be feeling anything but pride – for a thin-skinned man who was flooded with the full spectrum of emotions.
With the reassuring presence of Conky McFadden travelling behind them and the flower-filled hearse in front, they journeyed through the red-brick streets of south Manchester, bustling with back-packed students hurrying to their lectures, to the Holy Name church on Oxford Road. Focusing on the black peaked cap and creased, red neck of the driver, Sheila was careful to avoid the gaze of Paddy. He was sitting, legs akimbo, like he was en-route to a party, holding a monologue that nobody listened to about the O’Brien dynasty and feudal nature of respect. She made damned sure that he couldn’t see her wincing with pain from the bruising caused by his punches.
Finally, as the car pulled up behind the hearse, Sheila understood the enormity of an O’Brien being murdered. Jack O’Brien, of all people. The pavement outside the large, sandstone Catholic almost-cathedral churned with people. Gaggles of young girls decked out in hotpants and vests as though they were heading off to the Trafford Centre for a day’s shopping, taking macabre selfies with the hearse in the background. Paparazzi, snapping nattily dressed black guys whom Sheila recognised as rappers, with their arms slung nonchalantly around the shoulders of singers she had seen on the music channels that played continually on the gym’s TVs. All fluttering false eyelashes and backcombed 1950s hair. Actors, recognisable from soap operas. The region’s glitterati and gritterati had come out in force. Jack clearly hadn’t belonged to the O’Briens. He had belonged to the world. Sheila wondered how Paddy felt now, knowing he was a zero next to his dead nephew. The thought made her smile.
As the pall-bearers shuffled forwards, bearing the coffin on their shoulders, Paddy pushed his way between Sheila and the beleaguered Frank. Placed his arm territorially around Frank’s shoulder.
‘Back off, She,’ he said, glancing in her direction but not meeting her disgruntled glare. As he turned to face forwards, she was sure he winked at some groupie onlooker who was dabbing artfully at observant, dry eyes. ‘This is brotherly business.’
Feeling her cheeks flush hot, Sheila bit her lip and looked down at her shoes. Acknowledged the pain where Paddy had hit her but pushed it aside, hooking her arm inside Dahlia’s. Swallowed hard as her brother-in-law started to sob like a small boy with a skinned knee. From behind, she watched his shoulders heaving, but there was nothing she could do to comfort Frank. She walked three steps behind. Always a cheap afterthought in expensive clothing. At her side, Conky McFadden lifted his glasses and fixed her with his bulging thyroid eyes. Behind the disconcerting frog-like stare, she saw sympathy. Even Conky could see the hurt she thought she was hiding so well.
Inside, the organ played a solemn hymn that echoed around the lofty vaulted ceiling. She had loved coming here as a little girl, on the way back into town from school. Alighting from the bus at the university students’ union, she would sit in silence on one of the pews, marvelling that the tiny golden crucifix, hanging above the altar, was such a modest focal-point in such a famous and otherwise ornate church. The Smiths had sung about it. Even Elsie Tanner from Coronation Street had had her funeral mass here.
Towards the front, she spotted Gloria, looking prim but proud beneath a fascinator that had Debenhams written all over it. She gave her a fleeting smile that would remind her she was not family. Noticed Maureen Kaplan and her posse of bent accountants on the same row, all deferentially nodding at Frank and Paddy. All except for the man that wasn’t one of Kaplan’s sons. What was his name, again? Goodman. David Goodman. He looked like he was about to vomit. And, perhaps most interestingly, she noticed that Goodman was staring intently over at a small dishevelled-looking man with a buzz cut and glasses, sitting next to a frump of a woman with hair that resembled a brown helmet.
The detective and the tax inspector. The gruesome twosome. Ellis James and Ruth Darley.
I had never read any Marnie Riches’ novel before, but I had always wanted to. Her Georgina McKenzie novels are quite popular and everyone agrees she’s an author to watch out for! Born Bad was a gritty crime thriller set in Manchester with a powerful set of characters and a promising ending.
The book is told by multiple voices. Not two or even three, but actually more. I was confused at first, as every chapter seemed to introduce a brand new character and their story. However, soon it all began to click together. This is a complex tale, a story of evil and ambition, a fight for power and success. Who will be the last man standing?
Who do we have here? First, gangster Paddy O’Brien, whom I hated with a passion but was the key to everything. Then there’s his wife Sheila, his right hand Conky and his brother Frank. The Boddlington gang has Tariq and Jonny, and the dangerous Fish Man… and then you have Lev. Keep in mind that I’m not even mentioning all the other supporting characters like Gloria, Frank’s son or Lev’s ex-wife Almost all the characters were evil and hard to like, but perhaps Conky and Leviticus Bell were the ones you could understand a bit more. Not that I would ever be friends with them, but at least they weren’t as bad as the others. And that’s saying something.
The book is filled with suspense and the action begins already in the first chapter. What a way to start a book! And it doesn’t exactly slow down… This is not a fluffy read by any means and you will definitely need something lighter when you finish reading. It’s just one of those books where practically everyone seems to be over-manipulative and selfish, caring only about money and success. And that undoubtedly makes for great stories, but I still wished I had someone to root for. The dark world of Manchester reminded me of Sirens by Joseph Knox; although, Aidan, as flawed as he was, has managed to hold a special place in my heart. Sadly, I can’t say this will happen with any of these characters.
As for the ending, I think it was made clear that this is only the start of a series, and I really enjoyed the final chapters leading to that powerful conclusion. There were some fun surprises and a final twist that made me smile, even if I didn’t exactly like what had happened. Perfect for fans of gangsters, action and violence.
Avon Books, 2017