The Locksmith by Linda Calvey: Packed with drama, menace, some bone-crunching violence and heartbreaking emotions - book review -
When you have served eighteen years behind bars – earning the dubious title of Britain’s longest-serving female prisoner – researching a debut crime novel was never going to be top of Linda Calvey’s to-do list.
Now happily going straight and leading a quiet life, Calvey, who was convicted of murder and shared a prison with the likes of Rose West and Myra Hindley, is finding new fame as a writer, following her 2019 memoir, The Black Widow, which was a highly acclaimed bestseller.
As Calvey’s friend and undisputed Queen of Crime Fiction, Martina Cole, says in her foreword to The Locksmith, ‘Some writers write what they know. Linda writes about what she lived… and is the bravest and most authentic new voice in crime fiction.’
And having been at the heart of the criminal world herself, everything Calvey lived certainly shines through in this fast-paced, addictive thriller as we are swept into the life of Ruby Murphy, an East End teenager who is sucked into crime through poverty, and becomes the queen bee of a world of glamour, danger, gangsters, hitmen and villains.
In Canning Town in 1990, the Murphy family live in a close-knit community, a place divided sharply into those who stay on ‘the honest path,’ working hard and eking out their wages, and those who join the East End’s world of crime.
Ruby’s honest and hard-working mum and dad just about scrape by every month but have nothing left to buy a round at the pub or go up to the West End to visit ‘real’ shops like M&S to buy clothes for Ruby and her older brother Bobby.
Her dad Louie, ‘as straight as a die,’ works at a scrapyard and despite lucrative ‘job’ offers from local villains, everyone knows he doesn’t do ‘crooked work’ or take ‘dodgy money.’ If you do one job then they’ll all start coming to you to do the next one… and the next.
Bobby is apprenticed as a locksmith and has an almost instinctive way of unlocking even the most complex locks while Ruby, who will be starting an office job in the West End, tells herself she is happy with her ‘small, honest life’ but sometimes, just sometimes, wishes for more.
And when tragedy strikes twice, Ruby and Bobby discover that all that honesty and all that hard work have left them with nothing but poverty, destitution and hunger. Ever resourceful Ruby decides to pull them from the ashes, swearing that for her now, ‘it’s family and only family.’
With Bobby’s gift for breaking locks and Ruby’s uncompromising skills for organisation, negotiation and bargaining, it starts as one job… just one step outside the law. And yet that one step sets Ruby on a path… straight to the top.
But in the East End, where criminals rule the streets, you don’t build an empire without making a few enemies.
What a rollercoaster ride The Locksmith is… a twisting, turning journey into the underbelly of London and into the heart of a close-knit family whose mantra that ‘a straight pound is worth three crooked pounds’ becomes buried under the weight of tragedy, need and hopelessness.
And in Ruby Murphy, Calvey brings us an exciting and fascinating anti-heroine who grows from happy teen, trusting in her own family’s honesty, to ruthless criminal empire-builder, by turns strong, loyal, loving and totally unforgiving.
At a time when men rule the streets of the often lawless East End, Ruby is a woman who settles into a life she had never once imagined and finds her own path to power, fuelled by a determination to protect those most important to her.
But what impresses most is not just Calvey’s clever use of her fascinating inside knowledge of the world of crime, but her storytelling skills and her ability to create superbly drawn characters… good people and bad people who provide a unique insight into just how villains are made.
Packed with drama, menace, some bone-crunching violence and heartbreaking emotions, The Locksmith is crime fiction real-deal and you wouldn’t want to miss it!
(Welbeck, hardback, £12.99)