I thank Henry Roi PR for providing me an electronic copy of this novel, originally published in 2008, which I freely chose to review. This has in no way influenced my review.
This was my introduction to the work of Karina Kantas and notwithstanding the pace of the novel has much in common with a thriller, the underlying commentary on themes such as gang culture, knife crime, social identity and power lent the book some interesting depth, made all the more intriguing by the use of a mainly female cast of characters.
Cass is escaping a longstanding abusive relationship, which began shortly after leaving school and culminated in her isolation from family support. The attendant violence also coloured the young woman’s attitude to physical harm and hardened her resolve not to be a victim. However, when Cass is the subject of a random attack after a night out, she is rescued by the ‘Kittnz’, a gang of five female bikers, led by the indomitable ‘Raven’, and recruited (via a brutal initiation) to join their select gang. Part of the appeal for Cass, soon re-named ‘Ice’, is their flamboyance, “all loudly dressed in similar leather outfits; beautiful women who looked like glamorous rock chicks…” but more importantly, “the fear and respect they created was intoxicating.” In fact, Cass was won over long before the full implications of her commitment were known, any reticence leached away by her desire to join their ‘sisterhood’ and to be feared, it was sufficient to know that the gang’s activities were ‘rewarding and justified’.
The journey to a sense of liberation, self-esteem and empowerment are mainly observed through the experience of the newest recruit and the pent-up anger within ‘Ice’ and her desperation to be accepted, finds her capable of extreme violence. The raison d’etre of the Kittnz is allegedly to ‘do over’ people who overstep the mark. However, the clandestine nature of their existence insists that they each work in outlying towns (their professional personas - lawyer, doctor, journalist, psychoanalyst also providing a useful skill-mix), only venturing into Northampton in the guise of their alter-egos. The choice of a fairly nondescript provincial town made me smile, but I imagine was deliberate and perhaps enabled the Kittnz to enjoy the exaggerated rep’ that might go with swimming in a smaller pond. But, the tentative democracy underlying the gang’s activities is quickly exposed by the iron control exerted by ‘Raven’ and the expected sacrifice of family, friends and private life. The lifestyle upside of belonging, clothes, money, drugs and disinhibition are well described by the author, but so too is the price to be paid. I read with almost morbid curiosity the new depths of depravity that the gang might plumb to sustain their reputation. What started out with almost moral zeal, delivering a modest form of ‘justice’ for those let down by the system, quickly deteriorates into an escalating, toxic cycle of violence infecting the gang members and the corruption on which they depend. This is most clearly evidenced in the trajectory of ‘Ice’, raised high on her carefully nurtured resilience and her lust for fearsome power, ultimately, in a sad symmetry, subjugated to the will of her waning leader and a bigger, more ruthless male gang. A rather tragic victim transformed into an abuser and then a victim of another hue.
The take away from this book is perhaps that vigilantism is flawed, not by the gender of the vigilante, but the absence of transparent authority. However, the slightly implausible premise is nonetheless well handled by Ms Kantas and the story well-told. On this showing I look forward to reading more of her novels in future.