Review Blog

Aug 15 2014

Razorhurst by Justine Larbalestier

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Allen & Unwin, 2014. ISBN 9781743319437.
(Age: 14+) Highly recommended. Sydney 1932. Crime. Ghosts. Gangs. Prostitution. Hungry, homeless Kelpie believes the ghost, Tommy, when he tells her that there are apples inside the room in the old boarding house. But breaking in, she finds a recently killed man, Jimmy, blood everywhere, his girlfriend standing by his bed, a card in her hand. Hearing the police hammering at the door, the pair take off, ending up sheltering under the bed at Darcy's house, with Jimmy's ghost in tow.
So begins this amazing story, set in the Darlinghurst, Surry Hills area of Sydney in 1932, a time when gangs used razors to maim and kill their enemies. Chromo Dymphna was Jimmy's girlfriend and is known by one and all as the Angel of Death, as her boyfriends never seem to live long. But Jimmy's death is different. People think that the killer is after Dymphna too, and with Kelpie involved, the two must join forces to survive.
Dymphna wants to protect Kelpie, not realising that streetwise fifteen year old Kelpie is close to her own age, but seeing in her a child like her own dead sisters who she was unable to protect from their murderous father.
They are told to go and see Glory, Dymphna's boss, the woman who runs one of the two main gangs. Kelpie is torn, Jimmy's ghost keeps telling her not to go there but she feels drawn to Dymphna. Standing in front of Glory, Kelpie can see there are hidden meanings in the conversation between the two women, and wonders what will happen next. It is a day unlike any other.
The evocation of the streets of Sydney in 1932 is deft, with its prostitution, power lust and gangs all forming the background of this engrossing tale of one day in the lives of these two young women.
The characters of Dymphna and Kelpie are marvellously drawn, both doing whatever they can to survive in this seedy world. Layers of interest will spellbind the readers, keeping them wondering how the two will survive, but also how the gangs will work out their differences, how the ghosts will impact on the women's lives, how the young Kelpie will avoid the profession which has entrapped Dymphna.
Based on meticulous research of this crime ridden time in Sydney's history, Larbalestier has sprinkled her writing with idiomatic terms from the era, giving the reader cause to stop and reflect on language and its meanings.
The crime scenes are bloody and indiscriminate, the chase scenes breathless, the tension heart stopping. I enjoyed every word.
Fran Knight

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