Published: 19 January 2023
Author: Natalie Marlow
Published by: Baskerville
Genre: Crime Fiction
Length: 336 pages
Reading dates: 1-4 January 2023
Private enquiry agent William Garrett, a man damaged by a dark childhood spent on Birmingham’s canals, specialises in facilitating divorces for the city’s male elite. With the help of his best friend – charming, out-of-work actor Ronnie Edgerton – William sets up honey traps. But photographing unsuspecting women in flagrante plagues his conscience and William heaves up his guts with remorse after every job.
However, William’s life changes when he accidentally meets the beautiful Clara Morton and falls in love. Little does he know she is the wife of a client – a leading fascist with a dangerous obsession. And what should have been another straightforward job turns into something far more deadly.
Drenched in evocative period atmosphere and starring an unforgettable cast of characters, Needless Alley takes the reader from seedy canal-side pubs, to crumbling Warwickshire manor houses, and into the hidden spaces of Birmingham’s Queer, bohemian society.
When I heard about Needless Alley, I was immediately intrigued – I loved the idea of a detective story set in the 1930s. William Garrett is our man, a detective that specialises in setting up women using his actor friend Ronnie Edgerton as their romantic interest – once he ensnares them, William is there to get photographic evidence to present to husbands so they can get divorced.
But when William is employed by a man who is suspicious of the behaviour of his much younger wife Clara, William is in a quandary after meeting her and finding out she wants to divorce her husband, something that was near impossible for women to do back in the 1930s. He falls in love with Clara and comes up with a plan to set her up with Ronnie so her husband will divorce her and they can be together. But things don’t go as planned.
It was difficult to like William to begin with knowing his profession, especially as divorced women back then had no rights and would be left penniless and loose their children. But as the story progressed I started to understand him more. Both him and Ronnie are still suffering from their experiences in World War One and traumatic childhoods.
Soon the murders are coming thick and fast and William is investigating the seedy underworld of Birmingham, the world of drugs, pornography, corrupt policemen and gangsters. I loved the setting of Birmingham, being a Brummie girl myself – the Brummie words used took me back to my childhood and the the locations mentioned were all familiar to me, expect strangely the canals which was an area of Birmingham I never really got to know.
Needless Alley is the first part of a planned series of books featuring William Garrett. There are characters in this book who I’m sure will feature again including Queenie, a tough single mother who lives on a barge and is Ronnie’s sister and has a childhood connection to William. I’m keen to read more of their back stories which I’m sure will be featured in future novels.
An atmospheric piece of historical fiction with dark and seedy undertones, I thoroughly enjoyed debut Needless Alley.
Many thanks to Baskerville for the proof copy.
About the author
Natalie Marlow is a historical novelist with a fascination for the people and landscapes of the Midlands. Family histories and classic crime fiction inspire much of her writing. She holds an MA in Creative Writing (Crime Writing) from the University of East Anglia and is part-way through a PhD at Birkbeck, University of London. Needless Alley is her first novel, and she is currently writing her second William Garrett book. She lives in Warwickshire with her family.