Sunday, 8 December 2013

One of Us by Iain Rowan - reviewed by Debbie Bennett

I've read quite a few books about crime rings, drug runners, mafia-style gangs etc - from the point of view of the hard men (and women) involved. You know the type: big bad boss will kill on sight but always has a Sunday roast with his gran and has a soft spot for kittens. I've read books that concentrate on the victims: the sex-trafficked, the tarts-with-a-heart clich├ęd characters that all start to look the same after a while.

This novel is different. Illegal immigrant Anna is neither victim nor perpetrator of crime - and yet she may be actually be both. From a life of relative luxury in Russia, Anna fled to England when her family was murdered. With no papers and no legal status, she works in a burger bar and tries to make ends meet while she saves up the money to buy her legitimacy. In passing conversation with a customer, she mentions she was a medical student, almost a qualified doctor back in Russia, and that throwaway comment may cost her more than she realises when she finds out the customer is employed by crime-boss Corgan, who just happens to be looking for a doctor to treat gunshot wounds, sexual-abuse victims - anybody who gets injured in the line of Corgan's duty. Promised the prize of identity papers, Anna get sucked into Corgan's world and finds that getting out again alive is not so easy.

Rowan's skill in this novel is not so much plot - though it has enough satisfying twists and turns to satisfy any crime fan. For me, what engaged me as a reader was his skill in characterisation. The whole story is told from Anna's point of view and never once does Rowan slip up with Anna's voice. She speaks perfect English - she's educated, obviously - but it's the turn of phrase, the way sentences are constructed, the lack of colloquialisms and contractions that give the authenticity to Anna's character. And even the minor characters have a depth and quality that is rare in this type of novel. As Anna can't decide whether to put her trust in the dependable brotherly Sean or the flash and sexually-attractive Daniel, Rowan manages to create a complex duality in both men and we are as undecided as Anna.

This is life seen from an illegal immigrant's point of view - always under the radar, a non-person not entitled to what we would consider basic essentials and always scared of being found out and deported. And yet Anna has an empathy with the patients she treats. Doing nothing is never an option and she starts to fight back against Corgan, the corruption and the entire system which has forced her to live this way.

An excellent novel. I enjoyed reading this and will look out for more books by this author. 


One of Us, reviewed by Debbie Bennett