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Bad Penny Blues Paperback – August 17, 2010

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Serpent's Tail (August 17, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1846686784
  • ISBN-13: 978-1846686788
  • Product Dimensions: 7.6 x 5.3 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #131,449 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

The story begins in 1959, with constable Pete Bradley’s discovery of a savagely murdered woman alongside the Thames, and ends in 1965, when, as a detective sergeant, he finally solves the mystery of “Jack the Stripper”—there are more bodies over the years, all of them petite prostitutes. Pete’s story, of successes and setbacks, of personal obsession and departmental politics, runs parallel to the first-person narrative of Stella, a young designer who finds both joy and heartbreak in the fashion and art worlds of swinging London. She is also haunted by lifelike visions of the murdered women’s final moments. Unsworth (The Singer, 2009) draws on a large canvas, incorporating race riots and sex scandals, hard bop and op art, and then-current events such as the Profumo Affair and the Clay-Cooper fight. It’s a provocative mix of real history and imagined crime, shot through with a sordid police-corruption angle that recalls James Ellroy’s L.A. Quartet. Unfortunately, despite Stella’s psychic connection, the two lives never cohere into one story. Readers not entranced by the era may feel that Unsworth has gotten lost in the details. --Keir Graff


"'An astonishingly evocative and emotional telling of the tale, a heartbreaking elegy for the blank generation' - Jake Arnott 'A compulsive and engrossing book, the characters and the narratives utterly convincing' - David Peace"

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Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By A. Ross HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on October 5, 2010
Format: Paperback
This fictional take on the unsolved real-life "Jack the Stripper" murders in London from 1959-64 delve deeply into the era's sordid side. The city is on the cusp of breaking out of the postwar gloom and into the so-called "Swinging Sixties", but meanwhile, someone is killing prostitutes and dumping them in the Thames. The story alternates between two characters: copper Pete (who rises from patrolman to detective inspector over the course of the story) and Stella (who rises from art student to acclaimed fashion designer over the course of the story). The former finds the first body and is later deeply involved in the hunt for the killer, while the latter is tied to the killings through her psychic "gift," which allows her to experience the last minutes of each woman's death.

That's right, for some reason, what could have been a perfectly good gritty noir is marred by an unnecessary dose of the supernatural. Now, I'm not completely opposed to mixing the supernatural and the crime genre (for example, Colin Cotterhill's Laotian series does it quite well), but here it jars badly. I can only imagine that the author had decided to write about the burgeoning art and music scene of the time, and felt the need to connect that aspect to the murders much more directly than it already was. It's not a good choice, but nor does it wreck the book -- it's more of an irritant.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Bill Kupersmith on July 23, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The atmospherics of Bad Penny Blues are so good that I felt half a century had dropped away and that I was once more in my twenties living in the London of Mary Quant, Jean Shrimpton, Screaming Lord Sutch, Christine Keeler, and the Headless Man. Cathi Unsworth's grasp of the fashions and idiom of the late 50s-early 60s seemed well neigh perfect. Her blow-by-blow recounting of the Cassius Clay-Harry Cooper boxing match is a brilliant piece of sheer virtuosity and although it barely advanced the plot, I loved it and thought I was at ringside.
It should by now be well-known that the most important aspects of the best crime fiction (which is amongst the very best fiction, full stop) are not the crimes and the detecting, but the relationships amongst the characters. My favourites are Baroness James's Innocent Blood, Donna Tartt's The Secret History, and Tana French's The Likeness. Bad Penny Blues nearly belongs in such select company. As soon as I finished the book, I began rereading the early sections where Stella Reade describes how she and her friends Jackie and Jenny were art students at the dawn of the sixties starting their careers. Such poignant stories even without any murders and police procedures would have made a perfectly good stand-alone story.
Let me add a word about the paranormal elements in Bad Penny Blues, which some readers have carped about. Stella the fashion designer is a sensitive. She has dreams in which she is aware of what the prostitutes who are about to be murdered think. Now there are some readers who cannot abide the paranormal and the supernatural, but it is hardly fair for them to complain about what readers like myself who inhabit a more spacious and interesting world enjoy.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Mike Gerrard on February 8, 2011
Format: Paperback
Cathi Unsworth is one of the real new stars of crime writing in the UK. I'd never read her before this book but it was so powerful that I immediately wanted to read everything else that she'd written. You could say she's a bit like a British Megan Abbott - atmospheric period detail, a strong story, fascinating female characters, and a beautifully descriptive writing style. Also like Abbott this is a re-telling of a real story in fictional format. By the end of it I felt like I'd been living in among London's gangsters and police in the 50s and 60s. If you like Jake Arnott, do read Cathi Unsworth.
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