A year ago, the first book in my Mancunian-Noir gangland series – Born Bad – was published. After having had bestselling, award-winning success with three George McKenzie novels, set in South East London and Amsterdam, it was the first time I’d allowed my crime fiction to wander north, along the M6, to my hometown and place of birth.
Born Bad follows the lives and power-struggles of those who lead the city’s underworld: Paddy O’Brien heads up the O’Brien crew on the south side, while Tariq Khan and Jonny Margulies work as a team to run the Boddlington gang in the north. Their business interests encompass drug dealing, prostitution, counterfeiting, illegal gambling and super-club-ownership - the series seems to thrum with a soundtrack of iconic Mancunian music. Above all, it’s a gritty and gripping tale of the lengths that the “haves” will go to in order to protect what they’ve built, and the appalling compromises the “have-nots” will make in a bid to escape their crappy circumstances at home. Set all of the high-stakes action against a northern urban backdrop, where it regularly rains and the sky is permanently an uninspiring shade of grey, and you can understand why it was essential to pepper the story with dark humour. Mancunians are like that, in any case. Poverty pervades the city like dry-rot. It’s officially the UK’s most violent city, but the people have a keen, dry humour. They have to see the funny side of a hard life!
The Cover-Up published just over a week ago and is flying off shelves as quickly as Born Bad did, thankfully. Where Born Bad had a subplot of the women – Sheila O’Brien and Gloria Bell – taking crumbs from the table in a man’s world, we see the two taking over the O’Brien empire, thanks to bullying wife-beater, Paddy’s apparent demise. Imagine that! A battered trophy-wife and an ex-cleaning woman running the south side and battling with a Birmingham crime boss who fancies his chances! In a series with a sizeable and ethnically mixed cast of larger-than-life characters, readers are pleased to see that favourite anti-heroes, Leviticus Bell and Conky McFadden also reappear. The books can be read out of sequence, of course. It doesn’t take long to cotton onto who is doing what to whom. Early reviews are very positive…
What I found really satisfying as a writer, was penning both Born Bad and The Cover-Up as tales of two cities. As you would expect from the criminal underworld, there is a side to Manchester that is unspeakably luxurious and leafy. The big bosses hide behind their electronic gates in my fictitious south Manchester/Cheshire borders village of Bramshott, or in the well-heeled Edwardian splendour of Boddlington Park in the north. Tariq drives a Mercedes CLS. Paddy O’Brien prefers his Bugatti Veyron. Sheila pootles about with sacks full of dirty cash in the back of her Porsche Panamera. But at the other end of the scale, we have the likes of young, single-father, Leviticus Bell. Where support from his mother, Gloria, is lacking, he reluctantly turns to dealing drugs and being muscle for hire, playing one gang off against the other in order to give his terminally ill son the chance of a future. What other opportunities does someone like Lev have to escape the rubbish-strewn sprawl of his tower block on the fictitious council estate of Sweeney Hall? Both rich and poor have some morally dubious choices to make in the books, and their decisions are never easily reached. As a reader, you find yourself as much absorbed by these grey-area moral predicaments as you are by the grey, rain-soaked locations.
I’d encouraged readers who like their gangland thrillers to give this series a try. I am a real Mancunian and I feel certain I’ve painted the UK’s “most violent city” in its true colours. Go on! Dip your toe in Born Bad’s and The Cover-Up’s freezing cold waters! You’re as likely to end up smelling a million dollars as you are to be coated in grime!
The Cover Up by Marnie Riches (Avon)
Watch your back. Everyone else will be. How far would you go to protect your empire? Manchester’s criminal underworld is reeling from the loss of its leader, Paddy O’Brien. In the wake of her husband’s death, Sheila O’Brien takes charge of the city, and for once, she’s doing things her way. But she hasn’t reckoned with the fearsome Nigel Bancroft, a threat from Birmingham who is determined to conquer Manchester next. As a power tussle begins, Sheila is determined to keep control of the empire she has won – even if it means she has to die trying…
More information about the author and her books can be found on her website. You can also follow her on Twitter @Marnie_Riches.--> -->