I spotted Betrayal, last month while in the UK, in the WH Smith Bestsellers shelf. I liked the cover and the blurb, so I decided to buy a copy. I had never read any books by Martina Cole, and I really didn’t know what to expect, other than a crime thriller with some romance.
In fact, I was surprised because Betrayal was a very hard book for me to review. The theme, setting and characters were challenging. I can’t say I enjoyed it, because it was both an emotional as well as a disturbing experience, although the violence and crime is rarely graphic and never gratuitous. Overall, I’m glad I read it.
My first and main challenge was that I didn’t like or feel any type of affinity to any of the characters, at all. Although it takes place mostly in and around areas of London, such as Brixton, which I am familiar with, the events and characters were so removed from my own experiences or even comfort zone that they could have happened on another planet.
On the other hand, the author does a great job of presenting and building disquieting and troublesome characters in such a way that the reader feels empathy, and I could almost, and it’s a big almost, sympathise with them, at times.
It was a bit like a simplified version of The Godfather in a London council estate. We are introduced to the life and times of Aiden O’Hara, head of his family of hard-up and neglected, young delinquents living on a council estate, who end up becoming rich and influential drug dealers controlling all the merchandise coming into London from Jamaica and Columbia.
Almost all of the characters fall into one or several of the following categories: heavy drinkers, drug users, drug dealers, murderers, prostitutes, pimps, and many of them are often violent and mentally unstable. None of the main characters has a regular or normal job or education, as they are all directly or indirectly part of the mob. There are a few characters who appear fleetingly, such as police officers, actors, singers, politicians, and health professionals, who are part of the mainstream, but they are all corrupt. It’s a world I find difficult to understand or grasp, which is why this novel was an eye-opener, albeit a disturbing one. It reveals a world I know exists, but mostly avoid and rarely interact with.
Although the O’Hara family was tight and supportive, and even seemed happy at times, most of their lives were traumatic, to say the least. I did feel sympathy for many of the characters because they were practically forced to embrace a life of crime. As a teacher, I have occasionally dealt with similar youngsters and their families, and it made me question how we fail as a society due to the insufficient funding and intervention of social services, formal education and training, and psychological or careers counselling.
There was a brave, yet weak, attempt to convince ‘clever’ Aiden to pursue his studies, but if they were to keep the family together, delinquency or poverty were their only options. If he had pursued a more traditional approach to exploiting his astuteness and earning a living, there would have been a novel, too, because Aiden is a worthy character for any novel, however, it would have been a very different novel.
There were many disturbing events throughout, but the last chapter was so dramatic, that I felt shocked almost to tears, and that’s thanks to Martina Cole’s ability to bring me into the novel and feel as if I know and care about the characters.
I have mixed feelings about the final chapter, the epilogue. I understand the need for closure after such a dramatic ending in the previous chapter, but it felt like an anticlimax and somehow justified all the violence and crime which had taken place before and would continue to take place in the future.
Betrayal has 126 short chapters, which in some cases were too short and slightly disjointed. The first half of the novel was excellently executed, but it dragged a little in the middle and there was a lot of telling and repetition, and some confusing head hopping in the POV in the second half. Overall, I believe it would have benefitted from more thorough editing.
On the other hand, I also think it could have been longer, because the premise is ambitious, as it covers almost 40 years and three generations of O’Haras. Some characters and events would have needed more depth and it could have become a more powerful novel. I think the author has the talent to write a masterpiece as well as a fast and easy to read bestseller, and I hope that one day I’ll have the pleasure of reading it.
Overall it was an engrossing read, mainly because the main characters, especially Aidan, his mother, and some of his siblings, were so vividly portrayed. The reader is immersed in the characters’ criminal world, which might not be to every reader’s liking, but will not leave any reader indifferent, which is why I gave it four stars.
Especially for lovers of organised crime thrillers and intense family sagas, set in the UK.
Martina Cole is the acknowledged queen of crime drama with more than twenty novels to her name, of which over a dozen have been No.1 bestsellers.
Several of Martina’s novels have been adapted for the screen, including The Take and The Runaway which were shown on Sky 1 to remarkable reviews. In addition, Two Women and The Graft have been adapted for the stage; both were highly acclaimed when performed at the Theatre Royal Stratford East, which also staged Dangerous Lady in 2012, celebrating twenty years since Martina’s debut novel was published.
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