Book Review: Book explores the seedy underworld with a trio of compelling unfortunates

The world of Life Ruins, the 2019 crime novel by Sheffield author Danuta Kot, is a troubled world.

Thursday, 25th March 2021, 12:00 am
Life Ruins.

The clue is in the title, I guess. We are definitely not in St Mary Mead here. This book explores the seedy underworld that grows up like a fungus to prey on the vulnerable wherever they congregate in any great numbers. In this case, Bridlington. It is a bleak view of the world and, for much of the story, of human nature. Life is hard and people take advantage of each other, sometimes for financial gain and sometimes for their own illicit pleasure.

But, among the grimness of it all, Kot shines a light of hope in the form of her three main protagonists: grieving widow Kay, stroppy teenager Becca, and chronic risk taker, Jared.

Granted, they don’t sound like a barrel of laughs, but bear with me.

These are characters who find meaning and something worth living for in their connections with each other. A trio of unfortunates they may be, but unfortunates who will stop at nothing to support and save each other.

Kay, Becca and Jared stand up to everything life, and Kot, throw at them, from ruthless criminals to an establishment that doesn’t believe what they say and doesn’t seem to think they matter.

Becca in particular is a stand-out character. Yes, she is a teenager and yes, she is very stroppy.

But a cliché she is not. And it’s refreshing to see events from her perspective and understand why she responds to events in the way she does. Kot is a beautifully forgiving writer; in a previous job she worked as a teacher in Rotherham and “knew many Beccas,” and it shows. This is a writer who wants to understand people rather than judge them.

By the final third of the book, I couldn’t put it down. I was so invested in these people, and desperately wanted them to make it through their ordeal.

If you’re looking for a crime thriller set firmly in the real world and populated with characters who feel completely authentic, Life Ruins is the book for you.