Wednesday, 25 August 1999

Ann Granger: Asking for Trouble (1997)

Edition: Headline, 1997
Review number: 320

After six or seven Mitchell and Markby novels, Ann Granger has written a detective novel outside the series, almost completely different in tone and background. Her central character, Fran Varady, is about to be thrown out of the condemned building in which she is squatting when one of the others in the house is found dead, hanging from the light fitting in her room. At first thought to be suicide, it soon becomes clear that her death is murder.

Fran starts to look into the murder partly because it soon becomes clear to her that the squatters are the main suspects, and partly because relatives of the dead girl ask her to do so. Fran is not at all like their preconceptions of a squatter; she is well spoken, well educated and from a good background; she is neither a drug addict nor an alcoholic.

This in fact brings us to the heart of the novel, which is to do with the true nature of those who live in what is frequently considered Britain's underclass. None of those who lived with Fran were particularly unusual; they were normal people who for one reason or another had ended up in a squat. Asking For Trouble is unusual among detective stories about people in this type of background in that the squatters are not stereotypes. On the other hand, the police are not attacked either, the main reasons that they come over in a bad light being institutional bureaucracy (ill equipped to deal with the rather unofficial lifestyle of the squatters), and the prejudices of individual officers. So often crime novels reinforce a right-wing view of the world, in which squatters (or New Age travellers, or the homeless) are depraved addicts, and policemen guardians of virtue, and it is nice to see a writer making them all out to be normal, imperfect people.

As well as this point in its favour, Asking for Trouble is well written, in a style which reminded me of Ruth Rendell. Granger is better at writing about young people than either Rendell or P.D. James, and so her main character is not only sympathetic but also believable.

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