September 19, 2019

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British war-era thriller a bloody good romp

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 6/8/2016 (1139 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

British crime writer Cathi Unsworth takes readers back to the darkened and gritty streets of London during the Second World War in her latest novel, Without the Moon. These are the streets in which detective chief inspector Edward Greenaway is frantically searching for the soldier who is brutally murdering women working as prostitutes (on the bash) — or who find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time, alone with a killer.

Unsworth, a longtime journalist who has been called the United Kingdom’s queen of noir, cleverly uses the expressions common to this period of time and used by London’s criminals, workers and police to help create the book’s shadowy mood and add authenticity to her character’s dialogue. Her chapters bear the names of popular songs from this time in England’s history.

She has written four other novels and edited the award-winning collection London Noir. In Without the Moon, she introduces the intriguing character of DCI Greenaway — a police officer (or bogey) with a shady past that might not have been entirely above the law.

Her story of two murderers is based on actual events, and includes the names and characters of real people, such as London’s popular journalist Hannen Swaffer, who helps Greenaway with his investigations, and Winifred Moyes of the Christian Spiritualist Greater World Association, the leader of séances that intrigued Londoners seeking answers from the dead.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 6/8/2016 (1139 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

British crime writer Cathi Unsworth takes readers back to the darkened and gritty streets of London during the Second World War in her latest novel, Without the Moon. These are the streets in which detective chief inspector Edward Greenaway is frantically searching for the soldier who is brutally murdering women working as prostitutes (on the bash) — or who find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time, alone with a killer.

Unsworth, a longtime journalist who has been called the United Kingdom’s queen of noir, cleverly uses the expressions common to this period of time and used by London’s criminals, workers and police to help create the book’s shadowy mood and add authenticity to her character’s dialogue. Her chapters bear the names of popular songs from this time in England’s history.

She has written four other novels and edited the award-winning collection London Noir. In Without the Moon, she introduces the intriguing character of DCI Greenaway — a police officer (or bogey) with a shady past that might not have been entirely above the law.

Her story of two murderers is based on actual events, and includes the names and characters of real people, such as London’s popular journalist Hannen Swaffer, who helps Greenaway with his investigations, and Winifred Moyes of the Christian Spiritualist Greater World Association, the leader of séances that intrigued Londoners seeking answers from the dead.

Unsworth doesn’t try to hide the identity of her first killer, Gordon Cummins, a Royal Air Force pilot-in-training, but rather leads her readers along as Greenaway tries to capture the serial murderer before he selects his next victim.

Cummins is nicknamed "The Blackout Ripper" in reference to the Blitz’s restrictions on streetlights and light coming from the windows of homes, and to the infamous serial killer Jack the Ripper, who also preyed on London’s prostitutes. Cummins’ handsome looks, cultured voice and polite manners easily attract female attention; he has no trouble finding women wanting to make a few quid in exchange for sex. However, they don’t bargain for their eventual strangulation and mutilation at Cummins’ hands.

After Greenaway nabs Cummins, who, surprisingly, keeps denying his heinous crimes, the detective is appalled when he’s soon called to the scene of another murder. A woman’s body is discovered next to Waterloo Bridge — she’s been beaten, strangled, and then thrown over the bridge by yet another serviceman who gets his kicks from killing women.

This time the murderer could be a Canadian soldier with the Cameron Highlanders. Greenaway discovers the suspect is connected with distributing bootleg ration coupons and cigarettes. He turns to his past connections with organized gangs to collect the evidence required to nab the soldier for his numerous crimes.

Like Cummins, the book’s other killer has no remorse for his act of murder. He grabs his victim’s purse as he pushes her over the bridge, and then later tries to sell it to women in a pub.

There’s a hint that this could be the first of a series featuring Greenaway; if Unsworth decides to keep using the details of real-life murders in her novels, there will be no shortage of cases for the good inspector.

For readers unfamiliar with British slang from the 1940s, Under the Moon contains a helpful glossary that includes the meaning of words such as "grass" and "kip."

This is entertaining as a crime novel, and Unsworth’s historically accurate detail depicts the reality of life for London’s working class during the Second World War.

Unsworth is a skilled writer who brings her characters to life while also creating suspense. Let’s hope she carries on writing about the further exploits of DCI Greenaway and London’s dark underbelly.

Andrea Geary is a reporter with Canstar Community News.

Andrea Geary

Andrea Geary
Community journalist — The Headliner

Andrea Geary is the community journalist for The Headliner. Email her at andrea.geary@canstarnews.com Call her at 204-697-7124

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