Title: Dangerous Lady
Author: Martina Cole
So I am writing this review in a notepad on the eve of my family trip to Great Yarmouth which I’m really excited about and I can hopefully share some pictures of it on my Instagram and Twitter pages over the next few days as the by the time I post this I will be back from my holiday – boo!
Anyway I have been reading the first novel by Martina Cole, 1992’s Dangerous Lady though I have previously read The Business and Betrayal but I do want to share a little story about this book. I remember when I was a young Harry Potter obsessed whippersnapper when my sister first purchased and read this book which would’ve been around 2004, which was unusual for my sister at that time. Anyway one day when she was at work I snuck into her room to read about it and came across my first F-Bomb in print which makes me laugh when I think about it today and the amount of bad language we see these days in print and on TV. Also sorry to my big sister if you happen to be reading this which you will as you’ll see the post on Facebook #awkward.
Since then, the book has gained a huge reputation for being a classic & Martina Cole is known in the UK as the Queen of crime writing so I was excited to read this novel properly.
The story begins in 1950 with Sarah Ryan about to give birth to her ninth child. Her family is living in abject poverty in post World War Two London. She gives birth to her first and only daughter, Maura Ryan, who becomes the titular Dangerous Lady. At the same time her eldest son, Michael Ryan has already begun to turn to a life of crime as the police come looking for him as he is a runner for an illegal bookmakers. The first half of the book focuses mostly on Michael Ryan’s rise as he becomes king of the London Underworld and slowly his younger siblings get drawn into working in a life of crime as Michael’s heavies and during this half Maura is only a child.
The pivotal moments of the story take place in 1966. Maura is a beautiful 17-year old girl who becomes involved and infatuated with a policeman, Terry Petherick which is complicated further when she falls pregnant by him. Eventually both the police and Michael find out about the relationship and Terry dumps Maura to save himself. She confides in her mother about her pregnancy and afraid of her being a single parent, Sarah arranges for a backstreet abortion (as abortion was still illegal in the UK at the time) who scrapes the baby out of Maura but the botched operation results in Maura’s ovaries becoming infected and removed so she can never have children again. Following this, Maura decides to follow Michael into a life of crime and become both the Dangerous Lady and his Queen of the underworld but eventually events catch up with them as they pay the ultimate price for a life of crime.4
As I mentioned above, this is the third Martina Cole novel I have read and it really is an epic crime saga as we catch glimpses of the family through to the mid 1980’s as Maura and Michael both rise and spectacularly fall from grace in the London underworld. I did find many similarities in this novel to Betrayal with the character of Aiden being cut from the same cloth as Michael but in this novel I found it easier to sympathise with both Maura and Michael, though both characters are at times incredibly violent and terrifying their softer sides make them far more rounded and complex characters.
In both characters, Cole asks how much of a life of crime is down to personal choice and how much of it is down to circumstances? This idea is further highlighted by the character of William Templeton ad the various corrupt police on the Ryan’s payroll – all of which came from better backgrounds than Maura and Michael who it could be argued only entered into a life of crime due to circumstances.
The books themes of corruption, consumerism and excess I found fascinating as though I grew up in the 1990s and 2000s after the books events, I had heard about the culture of greed and excess in the 1980s during the Thatcher era and in this book it is shown just how dark it really is, with the Ryans being directly involved with government officials right the way up to the top echelons of power.
Cole also provides so much social commentary on 1950s and 1960s culture, in particular choice on abortion and the consequences of arranging a marriage on the foundation of pregnancy in the characters of Roy and Janine. As well as the fact women were expected to support their husbands no matter what they did and the attitudes to homosexuality in Michael’s relationships with men.
The only real negative is I found Cole’s use of foreboding a bit too obvious and forefront in the earlier chapters as there is quite a few chapters which end saying a character will live to regret what they have done. Nevertheless it did keep my reading to the end but nevertheless I enjoyed the novel and I will hopefully be reading some more of Cole’s works for my blog in the future.