Written by Justine Larbalestier
Paranormal, Historical Fiction
Published June 25th 2014
Thanks to Allen and Unwin
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The setting: Razorhurst, 1932. The fragile peace between two competing mob bosses, Gloriana Nelson and Mr Davidson, is crumbling. Loyalties are shifting. Betrayals threaten.Kelpie lives on the mean streets of Surry Hills in Sydney, where the seedy underworld struggle to maintain a truce, where men slash each other with razors instead of guns, and how a young girl on the streets leaves her fate in the hands of the ghosts who guide her. She's hungry and can't remember the last time she ate, now that Snowie is in prison, the man she grew up with before her guardian died and her main source of finding her next meal. On the advice of a spirit, Kelpie finds an derelict house which promises apples in abundance. But what Kelpie finds is Dymphna, dressed immaculately and standing over a dead body.
Kelpie knows the dangers of the Sydney streets. Ghosts have kept her alive, steering her to food and safety, but they are also her torment. Dymphna is Gloriana Nelson’s 'best girl', experienced in surviving the criminal world, but she doesn’t know what this day has in store for her.
When Dymphna meets Kelpie over the corpse of Jimmy Palmer, Dymphna’s latest boyfriend, she pronounces herself Kelpie’s new protector. But Dymphna’s life is in danger too, and she needs an ally. And while Jimmy’s ghost wants to help, the dead cannot protect the living...
Dymphna is Glory's best girl, with only the toughest Razormen spending an evening in her company. Known on the streets as the Angel of Death, Dymphna is never long without a man for protection, until her latest boyfriend and conspirator Jimmy is killed violently, with only a note from Mr. Davidson as a warning. Glory and Mr. Davidson run Razorhurst, a truce called after the brutal killings a few years prior, but Davidson wants Dymphna and seems will stop at nothing to make her his. Both girls are in a panic as they sirens near, and both girls decide to run. Kelpie can see and hear Jimmy's spirit, pining away for Dymphna even in death. She knows her time may be coming to an end, as she's fears her plans with Jimmy to take over Razorhurst may have been what lead to his demise. But Dymphna holds a secret, not only can she see ghosts, but can hear Jimmy's warnings.
When the girls hide in the home of aspiring writer Neal Darcy, much to the annoyance of Jimmy's ghost. If Dymphna tries to flee, Glory's men will find her, her only option is to confront her before Davidson finds her first. Both their lives are about to become a dangerous game of cat and mouse through the streets of what is now known as Sorrow Hills. Will either make it out alive?
Razorhurst was sassy, sultry and a brilliant take on gangland warfare with a paranormal twist. Keplie, named after the likeness to being a wild pup, is a phenomenal young lady, her life has been little more than tragedy and destitution but yet she's tough, feisty and isn't afraid to go down swinging. She and Snowie were raised by a woman known as Old Ma, who would tell Kelpie the story of how her parents died before being able to name her. It wasn't long before Old Ma had passed as well, and Kelpie relied on her ghosts to keep her safe, leading her to food and away from trouble. But for the past few years Kelpie has been on her own. Her clothing is threadbare and disintegrating, her hair wild and knotted and not only can't she remember the last time she ate, she has no idea how old she is. Kelpie broke my heart, her short life thus far was incredibly sad and finding Jimmy's dead body only added to more trouble the young girl doesn't need.
Dymphna is a prostitute. Not only does she know that Kelpie can see and speak to the dead, but she holds the same gift. She knows to survive the streets of Surry Hills, she needs the protection of her man, but a succession of murdered boyfriends has now left Glory's 'best girl' alone and vulnerable. The two girls were essentially from two very different worlds, but brought together through circumstance and now share a bond.
I loved the glimpse of Sydney during the Razor Gangs era, where it's said that the surge in organised crime was caused by the prohibition of sale of cocaine by chemists, street prostitution and the local watering holes closing at 6:00pm each night. It paved the way for the Davidson and Glory's of the era to run racketeering and underground crime syndicates. The paranormal aspects of Razorhurst only seemed to serve the purpose of Dymphna and Kelpie meeting, and sharing Kelpie's memories of how she survived the streets. I would have enjoyed it more so without it, it took what could have been a very realistic scenario of that era and added a element that felt incredibly out of place.
Regardless of the gift both girls shared that let the storyline down, I really enjoyed it. It was slow to start, but the sorrowful story of Kelpie drew me in, and the seedy underworld of the Razor Gangs kept me enthralled. If you're a fan of mobsters, hired goons or the tough street life and hard living of the twenties and thirties, you'll love this one.