The New Life by Tom Crewe (Chatto £16.99, 384pp)

The New Life 

by Tom Crewe (Chatto £16.99, 384pp) 

Taking Walt Whitman’s poem I Sing The Body Electric as a touchstone, Tom Crewe’s debut is a serious but seductive look at queer Victorian lives lived under the shadow of Oscar Wilde’s trial. 

Crewe uncovers the yearning stories of upper-class writer John Addington, a conventionally married man, who is in love with working-class Frank, and shy, anxious essayist Henry Ellis, who strives for a new kind of relationship with his wife Edith. 

Determined to take a scientific approach to the issue of sexuality, Ellis and Addington write a controversial book on the subject, and find themselves embroiled in the highpressure fall-out from Wilde’s guilty verdict. 

Emotionally vivid and erotically charged, The New Life brilliantly reveals a ‘seething and boiling’ world of ‘loneliness and anger and lust’ as Crewe’s complicated, compelling protagonists battle the restrictive mores of the day.

A Dangerous Business 

by Jane Smiley (Abacus £16.99, 224pp) 

By rights, this should be a riotous read. Set in lawless 1851 Monterey, it tells the story of Eliza Ripple, who has been working in a brothel since the death of her husband. 

She befriends unconventional Jean, and the intrepid duo set about finding the villain who has embarked on a spree of killing women. 

Suspicious of her clients and doubtful of her gut intuition, Eliza puts herself in a position of danger (abetted by beguiling, crossdressing Jean) to discover the culprit. 

Slow of pace, strangely genial in tone for its subject matter and luxuriating in the loveliness of the landscape, it’s a disconcerting mix of murder and the mundane. 

Needless Alley by Natalie Marlow (Baskerville £16.99, 336pp)

Needless Alley 

by Natalie Marlow (Baskerville £16.99, 336pp) 

Transplanting the hardboiled Hollywood noir of the 1940s to the backstreets and canals of 1933 Birmingham, the aptly named Marlow’s first novel has all the seamy glitter and cynical grime of the genre. 

PI William Garrett is war-damaged and scarred by the memories of his traumatic childhood. Teaming up with his long-time friend, handsome, charismatic Ronnie Edgerton, he makes a living setting honey traps for the unsuspecting wives of the city’s wealthy men, who are looking for a way out of their marriages. 

Things take a turn for the nefarious when William falls for Clara — the unhappy spouse of the egregious Morton, who is a close ally of fascist Oswald Mosley — and becomes immersed in a shadowy world of pornography, drug-smuggling and murder. A little overwritten at times, and over–long, it’s nonetheless a promising debut that’s atmospheric and darkly intriguing. 

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