by Tom Batt
Set in London in the late 1980s, Street Siren tells the story of a prostitute, Devlin Hunter, whose partner Roxy is viciously murdered, and her death is filmed for circulation as a snuff movie.
Despite clues as to the identity of the killer, the police investigation yields little and when Devlin uncovers a lead, she decides to act alone…
Street Siren provides an excellent couple of hours of escapism, the novel is gritty as the subject matter would suggest but never overly gratuitous and the plotting is neatly satisfying.
The book opens as Devlin attempts to cope with the aftermath of an evening spent with Ricky Romero, an adult film actor whom Devlin suspects was involved in Roxy’s murder. It’s candid and unapologetic, the reader is made aware of what Devlin has done but not why. She impresses as immediately authentic, likable, and interesting.
Chapter 2 rewinds several weeks earlier to unfold events interspersed with Devlin’s musings and flashbacks of her relationship with Roxy. In the brief time that Roxy presents in the novel, there is a quick, easy sense of the girls’ deep connection. Devlin’s devastation at her murder is consequently entirely credible even at this early stage.
However, as things progress, there is the odd niggle that maybe Roxy wasn’t quite so much of the Good Samaritan as Devlin wishes to remember. Indeed, although the plot of Street Siren suggests that Devlin calls the shots, conversely, her actions both before and during the story are governed and dictated by others’ behaviors and information, including Lewis, the police officer.
Both he and his superior, Grantham, are convincingly and straightforwardly depicted with flashes of a deeper complexity, personally for Lewis, and also in the working dynamic between the two men.
Given the nature of Street Siren, the book could have been a rather hackneyed read with a stereotypical cast. Batt plays nicely into some prototypes but there is a stripped-back, screen-writerly quality to his characterization that uses detail and surroundings to build a visual picture of the individuals as opposed to an emotional one, giving, what could have been a well-trodden story a fresh, intriguing invigoration.
Further, the third-person perspective is utilized with enough detachment that judgment on any of the cast is never leveled. It does not need to be overstated that some characters are completely degenerate and others emotionally vulnerable. It’s refreshing that Batt steps back from overstating this, leaving the reader free to exercise their imagination.
The late 80s London setting, especially Camden, really complements the narrative. The pivotal element of Street Siren is the VHS of Roxy’s slaying and Batt pitches the 80s old-school vibe perfectly. It’s not constantly signposted, but he nails the washed-out, strung-out, depressing yet chromatically hedonistic contrast that often existed in both individuals and their environment during the last half of that decade.
Because Batt conjures the ambiance of 1988 rather than bombarding the reader with overt period references, it gives the novel a fresh, zeitgeisty feel which works brilliantly. If you were functioning during that period, the background is nostalgically nuanced, if you weren’t, it taps nicely into the current 80s retrospective.
There are a couple of convenient touches to the plot but the breezy tempo ensures they slip by relatively unnoticed and, at three-quarters in, things become particularly gripping. The subtle ambiguity woven through the prose combined with a couple of red herrings guarantees that as events accelerate toward a violent finale, the reader is kept guessing.
Street Siren is a slick, catchy little novel that proves addictive to read. Highly recommended.