(Above: AU Cover/Below: US Cover)
Razorhurst by Justine Larbalestier
Published: June 2014 by Allen and Unwin (AU). March 2015 by Soho Teen (US).
Genre: Young Adult Paranormal Historical Fiction
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 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 . . .
Kelpie burrowed into my heart. She shares few words with other people because the ghosts have drowned them out. Razorhurst is about many individuals who lived on the margins of society. The different kinds of ghosts that haunt people or places felt real in the way that regret/burdens do. On the silver lining side of things, I loved seeing Kelpie’s fondness for the written word and stories grow over time.
This book has an unusual structure but I was won over by the asides from the characters as the slowly story progressed. The short chapters were like side streets that take the reader into the past of each character. It built a mosaic of motley personalities. In regards to the plot, the action picked up once Glory Nelson entered the scene. Talk about characters that wield charisma.
Dymphna’s female agency shines despite the oppressive world of misogynistic politics. The homage to curious noir heroines like Gilda was on point in the story.
On the plus side, there was fully rounded lgbtq characters. Kelpie also appears to have Aboriginal heritage like Snowy.* I appreciated the attention to detail in surfacing the historical and cultural mix that was present in Surry Hills and Sydney during that era.
Upon reflection, I’ve realised that I don’t mind stories with a slower paced feel if that pace matches the character’s internal journey. The ending for Kelpie, Showy and Dymphna sat right with me.
Travel Asides: Weirdly, it rained every time I read this book on the train. It also poured over Surry Hills while it was tucked in my bag. I was taken back to its novel nickname – Sorrow Hills.
*Note Larbalestier’s reflective post on How To Write Protagonists of Colour When You’re White.