Sirens by Joseph Knox

Doubleday | 2017 (12 January) | 384p | Review copy | Buy the book

Sirens by Joseph KnoxThe streets of Manchester have their dark secrets and nobody is better placed to hunt them out than disgraced detective Aidan Waits. Waits hovers between the police world and the city’s shadows of crime, ironically finding himself useful to both. He can go where others can’t. He wears his desperation and addictions like a coat. Never trusting or trustworthy himself, Aidan Waits looks like he can be bought.

David Rossiter MP has a problem. His teenage daughter Isabelle has disappeared into the underworld and he wants Aidan Waits to find her and bring her back, keeping the scandal at bay. Superintendent Parrs has an ulterior motive for sending Waits undercover. It is ten years since a young mother went missing and Parrs is sure that both cases have an awful lot to do with local crime lord Zain Carver. Waits is perfectly placed to enter Carver’s world. And it is there that he will find both sweetness and pain in the company of Carver’s sirens.

And what a dangerous world it is. Joseph Knox takes us deep into the depths of Manchester’s crime scene and it is a place where night rules over day, where hours lose their meaning, where drugs are power and Carver is king. We see it all through the eyes of Aidan Waits as he takes us into the Carver lair of bars, nightclubs and parties. It is a frightening place, inhabited by damaged people, some ritually scarred, others hiding under names that aren’t theirs, and this isn’t helped by the filter of haze over Waits’ eyes. But there is also something gentler and kinder for Waits to discover – the sirens who do Carver’s bidding yet still retain the light. They are all the more dangerous for it.

Sirens is such a powerful read. It is undoubtedly very dark but it is darkly beautiful. The writing is stunning and there is real feeling in Aidan’s struggles to dig deep into himself, to find an ability to care. The sirens themselves are tragically alluring, surrounded by monsters, giants and demons, many of which are at war. This is a book very well named indeed. The setting of the Manchester underworld is brilliantly drawn and it is evocative throughout.

Our relationship to Aidan Waits is complicated. This is hardly surprising as Aidan struggles with himself. And he is, without doubt, a fallen man and a corrupt policeman. But in this world so few are without blame. This does mean that our sympathies are torn in all sorts of directions.

Sirens is a very clever novel, all the more remarkable for being a debut. You’d never guess. At times I found it relentlessly bleak but the story is never less than compelling and emotionally involving. An extraordinary debut from such a talented writer.

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