A gloriously written tale about decidedly inglorious goings-on—mayhem and murder among Brit biker gangs.
Had Jane Austen decorated her novels of manners not with frock coats and carriages but severed heads and elephantine motorcycles, she might have crafted a marvel like this. Denby (Corazon, 2001, not reviewed, etc.) has Austen’s keen eye for character, her own funky poetry of place and a remarkable compassion for human failing. Forty-something Billie, ensconced in a kitschy New Age jewelry shoppe in charmless Bradford, a kind of English Detroit, lives in fear of discovery. In the ’70s, fleeing a Stepford Wives–esque mum and a Barbie doll of a sister, she’d hit the road with a crew called Devil’s Own, living a rock-’n’-roll fantasy. These bikers, at least, were the real bad thing, not the cover-up that comprised her childhood, darkened as it was by a womanizing, departed father and her own teenage date-rape. Billie earned the yahoos’ respect, even married an outlaw and godmothered the son of Terry, one of the scarier bikers, and his junkie bride. A speedfreak demon straight out of a Motorhead video, Terry was bad news—given to brutalizing his desperate better half. Billie decides, then, on a path of vigilante justice. Terry “disappears,” and Billie spends the next 20 years building a new life and looking over her shoulder. The chronicle of that new life’s unraveling, Denby’s psychological thriller is shocking not so much because of its unsavory mise en scène—syringes, low-rent hell holes—as for the writer’s gift for investing her derelict characters with fully functional hearts, minds and souls. One of the strongest female protagonists in recent memory, Billie delights and impresses, negotiating her nightmare with grace, pluck and wit.
Stunningly original, this is amphetamine fiction—crazy, fast and addictive.