Acid Row by Minette Walters

A review of the sociological crime thriller Acid Row by Minette Walters.

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This story depicts the build-up and harrowing events of a sunny Saturday inside Acid Row, the name its inhabitants have given to their crammed housing estate, where vastly different characters collide, either with lurid intention or by merely being in the wrong place at the wrong time, all trapped together inside the residential barricades.

The story of Acid Row begins with the leakage of confidential information regarding a known paedophile housed on the estate at the very same time as a young local girl has gone missing. Emotions flair as fearful mothers organise a march in the hope of gaining enough media attention for the paedophile to be removed, but they grossly underestimate the boredom of the teenage inhabitants of the estate, many of whom use drugs, not to mention the resident opportunists ready to commit crime whenever the occasion arises. The proposal of a peaceful march to eradicate a paedophile is used as a distraction and an excuse for the assembly of a hungry mob with a plan for violence.

The third-person narrative is sharp and to the point, allowing for the story to span many intertwined events happening simultaneously on the estate. As the story seemingly zooms around through different scenes and activities (I imagined the street in a bird’s eye view, probably similar to that of the police helicopter which features later in the story) a strong build-up of tension and anxiety develops inside the reader for what is to come. The narrative is also fairly emotionless, with its purpose to only relay the story, allowing it to really punch home the brutal details without holding back. Being past tense—something which is only sparingly noticed throughout the story since it manages to maintain all the agonising anxieties for a reader of present tense—it also gives an insight into the thoughts of the character it is following at that time, conveying their regrets and hopes and their worst fears to create a harrowing hint of what is to come.

There was a moment, Sophie always thought afterwards, when she could have walked out of that house as innocent and undamaged as when she went in. But the time for thinking was so brief—a heartbeat to make a decision she didn’t know she needed to make.

Acid Row by Minette Walters

The lead up to this catastrophic Saturday in Acid Row takes up around one fifth of the book. This may seem fairly excessive in terms of character introduction and setting—but trust me, it is needed. Throughout this first section you feel a real sense of something beginning to simmer under the surface and, once things do kick off, there is no slowing down. I found myself thankful for the gradual beginning that allowed me to be gently eased into such an intense situation.

This story follows many characters and events, so I found it wasn’t a book I could carry around with me and read for just a brief few minutes at a time. Instead I set aside allotted reading time which allowed me to get my head around all the information. Not all readers will have to do this, but I found it to be necessary due to the many characters the book followed, as it allowed me to truly appreciate and enjoy the book.

“Adversity brings out the best in people.”—A quote from one of the many characters, but I do believe this story also highlights how easily adversity can bring out the very worst in people. The events of Acid Row open the way for unforeseen heroes and unexpected cowards, the power of mob mentality and the strange sense of comradery between neighbours. I also found this story emphasised the prejudices we hold in society by forging unforeseen bonds and bridging the gaps between class, race, age, gender, wealth and occupation, and instead seemed to divide people into three groups: the good, the bad, and the ones who blindly follow.

Acid Row is a story rife with resentment, jealousy and poverty, and vividly displays the repercussions of cramming so many people, from young to elderly, into such a small and isolated housing estate. But Acid Row is also a moral story of misjudgements, prejudices and misconceptions. It sings the age-old message that we should never judge a book by its cover, meaning we should not judge a person by their appearance or situation, or by the label society has branded them with.

Acid Row is a novel out of my usual reading comfort zone, but the evident content of mob mentality drew me to it, and I would definitely highly recommend it and urge people not to be put off, like I almost was, in buying a book that so obviously is about a convicted paedophile—because there is so, so much more to the story than that.

Rebecca Delphine is an aspiring Young Adult author from Thanet.

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