Happy publication day to Alison Brodie, whose very funny new novel, Zenka, is released today. I read Alison’s last book, Brake Failure and loved the humour threading throughout the book, so when offered the chance to read Zenka, I didn’t hesitate to say yes. Before we find out my thoughts on the book, let’s take a look at what it’s all about.
The Official Book Blurb
Devious, ruthless, and loyal.
Zenka is a capricious Hungarian with a dark past.
When cranky London mob boss, Jack Murray, saves her life she vows to become his guardian angel – whether he likes it or not. Happily, she now has easy access to pistols, knives and shotguns.
Jack discovers he has a son, Nicholas, a male nurse with a heart of gold. Problem is, Nicholas is a wimp.
Zenka takes charges. Using her feminine wiles and gangland contacts, she will make Nicholas into the sort of son any self-respecting crime boss would be proud of. And she succeeds!
Nicholas transforms from pussycat to mad dog, falls in love with Zenka, and finds out where the bodies are buried – because he buries them. He’s learning fast that sometimes you have to kill, or be killed.
As his life becomes more terrifying, questions have to be asked:
How do you tell a mob boss you don’t want to be his son?
And is Zenka really who she says she is?
Well what can I say. When you take the lives of a nototorious gangland boss and a hapless Care Worker and try and blend the two, the results are always going to be somewhat interesting. That is exactly what happens in Zenka and what results is a delicious mix of darkly humorous narrative and occasionally moving rememberances.
When Nicholas’s mother dies, she sends a letter to her one time lover, Jack Murray, to let him know that he has a son, one he has known nothing about for over twenty years. She had been the love of Jack’s life, and the chance for him to have a family had passed him by, the fallout from their all too brief affair changing his life forever. But as for Nicholas… He couldn’t be further from the kind of person Jack is used to dealing with. As a Community Nurse Nicholas is loving and kind, always putting others first. As a gangland boss, Jack is hard and cruel and not averse to taking life just as easily as Nicholas would be willing to save one. So how can they possibly be father and son? And how does Jack speak to Nicholas when he knows nothing of his father? It certainly makes for an interesting Christmas taking Jack in a whole new direction, possibly giving him the one thing that he has always missed – a proper family.
But what of the eponymous Zenka? Where does she fit in? Well, Zenka is a dancer in one of Jack’s clubs. A hot headed and dominant young woman who credits Jack with saving her life and therefore would do anything to help him make contact with his son, even posing as his cleaner, although it has to be said she is possibl the worst cleaner in the world. This doesn’t bother her new boss, Nicholas who is more than taken with her other… talents. Zenka is a truly forthright kind of character, easily able to wrap young Nicholas around her finger, but there is a softer side to her. Very well hidden, but as you read on, you will know that it is there. And as for the passages written in Zenak’s voice as she writes to a friend… Well, as well as providing some good back story and explanation as to how things came to pass, sometimes driving the narrative onwards, they are also very humorous. And lord help Olga when Zenka finally finds her.
I really liked the way in which Alison Brodie has developed the characters of Nicholas and Jack. They couldn’t be more different. Nicholas is kind, giving and ultimately, a bit of a whimp, often cowering rather than standing his ground. Even his girlfriend manages to get the best of him, every single time. It is really funny and also kind of good to see how he changes throughout the story as all of the anonymous gifts that Jack bestows upon him start to impact upon his life in unexpected ways. Even the presence of his slovenly flat mate, Jason, leads to some rather hilarious scenes of miscommunication and misunderstanding. And yet, through it all, no matter what he discovers, Nicholas still maintains the essence of who he is. Bless him.
As for Jack, he is perhaps the biggest surprise of the book. Being a gangland boss you expect all the dodgy dealings and the threats of murder, although these are often put across in a highly amusing way, but there is also a sensitive side to this man, one which is truly heartening and despite their differences, you can’t help that Jack is able to make peace with his son. However, his friend and sort of business partner, Trevor, isn’t so easily convinced about the validity of the letter. He will do anything to protect what he has built up, including a retirement plan and sets out to scupper Jack’s big reunion plans. But can he succeed? Well – you need to read to find out, but despite Trevor being against both Jack and Nicholas, I couldn’t help but like him too. There is something strangely endearing about his shyness and his determined and yet timid nature.
The pacing in the book is spot on, all of the scenes flowing easily from one to the next. The rapport built up between the characters was so natural, so well written, that you could easily feel a part of it. Even the jarring differences between Nicholas and jason just worked, often in a highly amusing way, and their friendship with their elderly neighbour, Mrs Blanchflower, really made me smile, especially the way in which she can so easily manipulate Nicholas, like most of the women in his life to be fair. I think it is the characterisations, the drawing out of the funnier side of human nature which Alison Brodie excels in. It’s the elements of her previous book that I really enjoyed the most, the taking a normal person and dropping them in an abnormal situation and letting it all play out, the way in which they are forced to change, which really makes the books stand out for me.
A really funny and sometimes moving read that had me chuckling from start to finish. Nice one Ms Brodie.
My thanks to the author for the advance copy of Zenka for review. It is available now from the following retailers:
About the Author
Alison Brodie is a Scot, with French Huguenot ancestors on her mother’s side.
Brodie is an international, best-selling author. Her books have been published by Hodder & Stoughton (UK), Heyne (Germany) and Unieboek (Holland). Reviews for her debut, FACE TO FACE: “Fun to snuggle up with” –GOOD HOUSEKEEPING Pick of the Paperbacks.
“Vane but wildly funny leading lady” -Scottish Daily Mail.
Brodie has now gone “indie”. Here are some editorial reviews for her recent books.
BRAKE FAILURE: “Masterpiece of humor” -Midwest Book Review
THE DOUBLE: “Proof of her genius in writing fiction” -San Francisco Book Review.
ZENKA (to be released 6 Nov, 2017): “ZENKA is top of my list for best fiction this year. If Tina Fey and Simon Pegg got together to write a dark and hilarious mobster story with a happy ending, ZENKA would be the result.” -Lauren Sapala, WriteCity