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Heller, Mandasue - 'Lost Angel'
Hardback: 432 pages (Apr. 2012) Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton ISBN: 0340960094

The last words slipped out before he had a chance to stop them, and the punch landed like sledgehammer, splitting his lip and sending a spray of blood up into the air. And then Frankie was on top of him, his hands around his throat.

Johnny Conroy wakes up to find an angry father standing over him. Not his own, but the father of his girlfriend of six months, Ruth Hynes. Anyone in the Manchester area will tell you that you don't mess with Frankie Hynes. So when he tells Johnny that Ruth is pregnant and that he, Johnny Conroy, is going to stand by her - Johnny knows that's what he has to do. Or else, as Frankie says, he will be dog meat. No, really. Dog meat. Johnny accepts that marrying Ruth is the only deal on offer. He visits his own mum to break the news. He hasn't seen his mum for ages. When he was little they had been close, until his stepfather, Les, moved in when Johnny was nine. When Les took to beating Johnny, his mum denied the truth. Kicked out of home at sixteen, Johnny hasn't forgiven his mum for preferring his rotten stepfather to her own son. At least Frankie Hynes knows how to stand by his kid.

LOST ANGEL is Mandasue Heller's eleventh novel. Set in the Hulme area of Manchester, it's a tale of hard men, monstrous marriages, sex, drugs, drink, and tribal loyalties. Forced into a marriage that he doesn't want, Johnny Conroy does his best to fit into his father-in-law's criminal business, to gain his respect and to stick by a wife that he grows to despise. The only joy in his life is his beautiful daughter, Angel. But when she grows into a blonde beauty of fifteen - trouble brews on a scale to wreck lives and families.

Mandasue Heller is a popular writer. She knows her background, and draws from her own knowledge and experience of life in rough times in a rough area. The story of LOST ANGEL is told simply, with clear characters and at a gripping pace. But it is not so much a crime thriller as a family drama set amongst sink estates and dark streets; against a backdrop of violent and damaged relationships in the criminal underworld; life amongst hard men who earn each other's respect by graft, threats and punches, hard men who know how to tell their women to get back to the kitchen or the bed and where the women who are not desirable turn to drink and manipulation. It is a story to equal a sensational soap opera. I am a reader who likes her crime attached to an investigation, with a police team, a forensics or private investigator, maybe a journalist, I don't mind - no matter how harsh or dark the plot gets. So that whilst LOST ANGEL contains a high emotion factor and an involving plot - it is not for me. Neither is the epilogue which ties up the remains of the story strands in a big bow. But if you enjoy a story about relationships full of passion and rough justice, set in a criminal world but not much to do with the crimes of that world - a story that is straightforward in its telling - then try Mandasue Heller's LOST ANGEL.

Lynn Harvey, England
April 2012

Lynn blogs at
Little Grey Doll.

More European crime fiction reviews can be found on the Reviews page.

last updated 28/04/2012 20:40