Susan Wilkins – The Informant

susanwilkins-theinformantAs a drug-fuelled teenage tearaway, Kaz Phelps took the rap for her little brother Joey over a bungled armed robbery and went to jail.

Six years later she’s released on licence. Clean and sober, and driven by a secret passion for her lawyer, Helen, Kaz wants to escape the violence and abuse of her Essex gangster family.

Joey is a charming, calculating and cold psychopath. He worships the ground Kaz walks on and he’s desperate to get her back in the family firm. All Kaz wants is a fresh start and to put the past behind her.

When Joey murders an undercover cop, DS Nicci Armstrong is determined to put him behind bars. What she doesn’t realize is that her efforts are being sabotaged by one of their own and the Met is being challenged at the highest level.

The final test for Kaz comes when her cousin, Sean, gets out of jail. He is a vicious, old-school thug and wants to show Kaz who is boss. Kaz may be tough enough to face down any man, but is she strong enough to turn her back on her family and go straight?

The Informant is not your regular crime mystery. Yes, if you look for it in the store it’ll probably be shelved under crime, but trust me, this is not your regular crime mystery. Because everyone knows who the bad guys are. No one doubts they did it—whatever particular it you had in mind, as with Joey Phelps and company you can pretty much count on them having commited that particular kind of crime. What makes The Informant compelling then, isn’t the presumed whodunnit, but the psychological development of its lead characters and that of Kaz in particular. 

Kaz is fantastic. Hardened by an awful youth and a stay in jail, she is still surprisingly vulnerable and innocent in some respect. Her almost willfully blind belief in her brother’s better nature and her hope of redeeming him are both touching and frustrating, especially that to the reader it’s clear that Joey is a complete and utter psychopath who thrives on violence. His ability to manipulate Kaz is masterful and at times you could almost say he has a dual personality, but that isn’t actually true and even Kaz has to face up to the fact that she has made herself see the warning signs in a more flattering light so she could deny the truth. But Kaz isn’t the only one who pretends Joey is not all bad; Kaz’s mother and sister are also blind to his faults. Then again, all three Phelps women have been trained to ignore the comings and goings of their menfolk for decades. The only reasons Kaz has her eyes opened has been her time away in prison and the influence of her lawyer, Helen. Her bond with Helen was interesting, but Helen pissed me off. Iunderstand there was an undeniable attraction between these two, but I felt she led Kaz on and created complications Kaz didn’t need, both in terms of rehabilitation in society and in maintaining her sobriety.

But Helen isn’t the only tarnished character on the side of the angels, as those upholding the law aren’t all pristine either. We learn quickly that the Met is compromised and some of its officers are more concerned with serving themselves, rather than justice. The shenanigans of the upper brass are revealed both directly in their own viewpoints and through the viewpoints of two of the really good guys. In DS Nicci Armstrong DC Mal Bradley Wilkins created two very sympathetic characters, who it was easy to root for, while their boss Turnbull was utterly vile in more ways than one. I liked how Wilkins humanised both Nicci and Mal by showing them off the clock, Nicci with her daughter and Mal as he silences his woes by drowning them in alcohol. His struggle with overcoming the prejudices his pretty-boy appearance and his half-Iranian descent occasion was interesting and gave his character an interesting slant.

The pacing and the plot of the novel are fantastic. The story is utterly character-driven, yet the action is very well written and nail-bitingly tense. Wilkins included some heart-breaking events – one in particular made me want to sob – and it is a sign of how invested I was in the characters that I felt so much on their behalf. The road to going straight is a bumpy one for Kaz and the detours Wilkins leads her on are interesting and painful. Kaz’s journey is about betrayal and loyalty in many guises, but the most important lesson Kaz learns is that the most important loyalties she has, are those to herself and to doing what is right, even if that means going against family and the instincts that have been ingrained in her from childhood.

The Informant was a fantastic read and all I can say is I want more—more Kaz, more Nicci and more of Susan Wilkins’ writing. Luckily for me, the next book The Mourner will be out next spring. In the meantime, if you’re looking for a good crime read, I recommend you pick up The Informant.

This book was provided for review by the publisher.