“Why was he so curious? Perhaps it was partly because of her mystique, her hold over him, and partly because her world was not his. Were they really so different? Maybe they were and maybe he believed that if he could only figure her out, emulate her – her gestures, her attitude – then maybe he could be invincible, extraordinary, like her.”
The novel tells the story of Marcus Murray, “forty-ish with a small paunch and a few grey hairs,” and his fascination with gorgeous free-spirit, Melanie, who had disappeared when he was seventeen. “It’s as if she was a figment of my imagination . . .” Not only is there a dead body virtually on the first page, but also a missing person, presumed dead.
A stylish psychological thriller, So the Doves is concerned with the moral legacy of Thatcherism; truth and lies and the death of idealism; what is real and what is imagined; small town decay; violence and intolerance in their various ugly forms.
Marcus investigates political scandals and dirty deals for The Sentinel. His top-flight career in journalism had been kick-started by being in the right place at the right time (Paris – when Diana, Princess of Wales, suffered fatal injuries in a car crash with her lover). His latest coup exposing “the St Clair bank and their links to terrorist organisations” could take his career one of two ways: up a level, or down into oblivion.
Marcus is sent to Medway to look into the story behind the discovery of a body, (that of a bent, undercover cop), found when what was once an orchard is cleared for the Cross Euro Speed Link. He had grown up in the area, and left for the bright lights, big city, but never lost his practical idealism wanting to “expose all the wrongdoing in the world.” The case provides him with a way of revisiting his past, which is not something he is too happy about, as he heads back home, “The town seemed to fold in on itself like a fairground fun house, trapping me inside.”
Having neglected his mother, he decides to stay with her. A former headmistress at the local girls’ school, her husband, the vicar, had died of malaria when Marcus was just six years old. In 1989, he had been expelled from Coombe Hall and sent to Danner Comp because of writing a love letter to his best friend, Anthony; duly found by the parents.
At the new school, Marcus is teased for being different, and is bullied in the playground by a gang of heavies. Melanie, the school pin-up, comes to his rescue, and they masquerade as lovers. Melanie is objectified and sexually desired by the boys at school, while simultaneously being vilified as used goods and a slut as they fail to fuck her – an all too familiar #MeToo type scenario.
As an intense friendship develops, the pair bunk off school, hang out with Mel’s “unteachable” friend Georgie, and visit record shop, Vinyl Exile, to listen to Nirvana and Primal Scream. “She was brilliant, and she didn’t give a shit. None of it, not the skull, not the books, her grace or insight, none of it was self-conscious or pretentious: she just was. And he worshipped her. And resented her, just a little.”
Mel envies Marcus for being from a middle class-home, “A whole room lined with books. And a piano. You lucky fucker. Are you rich?” while he remains largely oblivious to the mounting aggression in her home where her mother’s latest lover, a bent undercover cop with a memorable flashing gold tooth, has supplanted Charlie, a gentle giant who gets peace and contentment from his adored champion homing pigeons in the aviary on his allotment.
Heidi James skilfully uses flashbacks to 1989 to establish the backstory between Murray and Melanie which impacts on the present; impelling us to discover what’s over the next page. Throughout the narrative, their relationship fuels both plot and character development, as we are drawn into the action, and tied to their fate. By means of a series of strong scenes, then and now, we are drawn into their sharply contrasting worlds and emotional landscapes. The social realism is permeated by a melancholy Englishness, and a desperate desire to get out and get away. Her particular brand of Domestic Noir had me hooked. To read about order being restored to a disordered world is especially satisfying as things fall apart all around us.
So the Doves by Heidi James | Bluemoose Books Ltd, September 2017 | £8.99 272 pp PB | ISBN: 978-1910422359
Format & content copyright © BookBlast® Ltd, London. Textual quotes copyright © the respective authors. All rights reserved. Photographs, graphical images & YouTube shorts copyright © their respective copyright holders. Unless otherwise specified, the content herein is only for your personal and non-commercial use.