Vine Street by Dominic Nolan reviewed

Vine Street Book Cover Vine Street
Dominic Nolan
November 11, 2021

SOHO, 1935.

A snarling, skull-cracking misanthrope, Geats marshals the grimy rabble according to his own elastic moral code.

The narrow alleys are brimming with jazz bars, bookies, blackshirts, ponces and tarts so when a body is found above the Windmill Club, detectives are content to dismiss the case as just another young woman who topped herself early.

But Geats - a good man prepared to be a bad one if it keeps the worst of them at bay - knows the dark seams of the city.

Working with his former partner, mercenary Flying Squad sergeant Mark Cassar, Geats obsessively dedicates himself to finding a warped killer - a decision that will reverberate for a lifetime and transform both men in ways they could never expect.

Vine Street by Dominic Nolan

Vine Street starts in London in the 1930s. In general it concerns the police and crime in London at that time. Rather more particularly we get to meet Leon Geats, Mark Cassar and Willamina better known as Billie. All three are police officers. At the start Geats and Billie are in the “Dirties” otherwise known as Vice. Cassar is in the (notorious) Flying Squad. A woman – apparently a street walker – has been found dead. There are issues about whose jurisdiction the case should come under. You do discover from the introduction that Billie and Mark are married later in their lives.

Vine Street has some quite complex twist and turns in it. It really is one of those books I would far rather people found out about for themselves so I’m reluctant to give anything much away. While this starts as what appears to be a simple story you realise by the end (many years later) just how multi layered it is. There is an investigation into the death however plenty of other ideas run through this for me. Police behaviour is certainly one as is the attitude to women and prostitutes (& pimps) at that time. The effects of the war come into this and how relationships change. There are secrets and lies.

Initially I found the language – I think it is probably authentic London of the 1930s – rather awkward to read. There were words I simply didn’t know and, while I could guess at some, others I could not. There were also some time switches going on that were not well signposted in my proof copy. These points slowed my reading down and at something under 20% in I was not particularly convinced.

Then things started to change – Vine Street flowed far better for me. I’m not sure what changed really – it might have simply been me however the book became more coherent and compelling. The police are not the only characters in this. Other people appear and play their parts. Nell is definitely one of them as is a cat named Tallulah! Personally I found all the characters convincing and well up to their tasks. Even the minor players are good. I became drawn in and well and truly hooked.

There is real darkness here and it may not be a read for those of a sensitive nature, some violence is part of the story. The tale does have humour however that is often balanced by parts that are powerful. In some senses this can be a “romp” at times but at others it is deadly serious. It did leave me hanging a couple of times wondering just what the hell was going on however that feeling didn’t last! I did spot one or two of the twists and turns before they arrived but that did nothing to spoil the book for me.

Possibly this was not the “greatest” read but it became increasingly appealing and chameleon like – just when I thought I knew what sort of book it was it changed!! Deeply powerful and entertainingly shallow :). In the end I simply really enjoyed reading Vine Street. I do hope the author can come up with some more like this – I will certainly read them. 4.5/5

Note – I received an advance digital copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for a fair review