Author: Justine Larbalestier
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Genre: Historical Fiction, Young Adult
Format Read: Paperback, 363 pages
Expected Publication: 25th June 2014 by Allen & Unwin Australia
Synopsis: “The setting: Razorhurst, 1932. The fragile peace between two competing mob bosses—Gloriana Nelson and Mr Davidson—is crumbling. Loyalties are shifting. Betrayals threaten.
Kelpie knows the dangers of the Sydney streets. Ghosts have kept her alive, steering her to food and safety, but they are also her torment.
Dymphna is Gloriana Nelson’s ‘best girl’, experienced in surviving the criminal world, but she doesn’t know what this day has in store for her.
When Dymphna meets Kelpie over the corpse of Jimmy Palmer, Dymphna’s latest boyfriend, she pronounces herself Kelpie’s new protector. But Dymphna’s life is in danger too, and she needs an ally. And while Jimmy’s ghost wants to help, the dead cannot protect the living…” (Taken from Goodreads)
Razorhurst is a historical crime novel written for the YA crowd. Set in 1932 Sydney, it follows two protagonists who have the ability to see ghosts. Kelpie is a young street urchin who was enticed to enter a house in Surry Hills by a ghost, who had promised she would find apples to eat. What she found was lots and lots of red … but no apples. Kelpie instead stumbles upon Gloriana ‘Glory’ Nelson’s number one razorman with his throat slashed and blood splattered all over the walls. And standing beside him in shock was the infamous Dymphna Campbell, Glory’s “best girl”.
Dymphna is the other protagonist in the novel, and knows of Kelpie’s ability to talk to spirits as she shares the same curse. Known as the “Angel of Death”, every one of Dymphna’s men ends up dead within a few months or less – and the same goes for Jimmy Palmer, her most recent squeeze. At the opening of the novel, Dymphna clutches a card from Glory’s rival, Mr Davidson, suggesting Jimmy Palmer was assassinated. She begins to fear for her life as Jimmy and her were planning to take over Razorhurst, and killing Mr Davidson themselves. As the coppers approach and not knowing what to do, Dymphna makes the split decision to run, taking Kelpie with her.
It’s hard to believe that all 363 pages of this novel revolves around that one singular day, a day that Dymphna deems as one of the worst days of her life. While it wasn’t surprising that her boyfriends all ended up dead, it was different this time because she and Jimmy had expected to succeed in their takeover. With him dead, she had no way to know whether Glory and Mr Davidson knew of their scheming. The whole situation is made worse as Jimmy comes back as a ghost and decides to haunt Dymphna.
Razorhurst is a very fascinating story based on real life events in the 1930s. Situated in Surry Hills – or Sorrow Hills – the way Larbalestier describes everything from that period shows the extent of research she did when writing this book. You truly feel immersed in the environment. At the end of each chapter is also a short snippet of some historical background information on the characters and settings mentioned in the novel. At first, I found it distracting as I wanted to get straight back to the story, but as the novel progressed, this snippets were extremely helpful in painting a stronger image and personality of all the characters.
I loved reading from both Kelpie and Dymphna’s perspectives, and thought they each had very strong and distinctive voices. Kelpie, having lived on the streets since her foster mum passed, acted like a child although she was the same age as Dymphna. Dymphna on the other hand behaved much older due to the profession she was in. To put it bluntly, she was Glory Nelson’s best whore.
The main link between the two girls was their ability to see ghosts. Dymphna had always been meaning to speak to Kelpie before the death of Jimmy, and wanted to teach her how to ignore all the spirits and thus prevent herself from going insane. Ironically, she never managed to talk to Kelpie until they were suddenly thrown together that day.
What I enjoyed most about Dymphna’s character was her smart mind. She self-taught herself how to ignore the ghosts surrounding her, even though their touch sends her stomach reeling. She’s also able to connect many of the dots, and makes logical decisions at every turn. Even when there is no positive outcome, Dymphna chooses the path that would less likely get her and Kelpie killed.
Kelpie is also a very loveable character. While not as smart as Dymphna, she’s a survivor just for having stayed alive by herself for so long. She often spends years at a time avoiding human contact, speaking only to ghosts who sometimes lead her to food and shelter. Kelpie is smart in her own way – she knows that she should avoid conflict, knows that she shouldn’t trust people easily, and to never tell others about the ghosts. The fact that she’s avoided child welfare for so long is just a testimony to her common sense as well.
Razorhurst is definitely similar to a YA version of Underbelly. It’s filled with intrigue, crime and gangs of razor-wielding men. I went into the book with no expectations, and left feeling extremely satisfied. While I had hoped there would be more bloody action and gore, I was still happy with the way the story went. The only flaw I would pick on is the timeline. There was SO much packed into this one day, it was sometimes a little hard to believe. There just seemed to be endless hours. I understand the urgency would probably be affected if the story occurred over a few days, so it’s not a flaw that affected any part of the story. Just my own personal nit-pick.
Overall, Razorhurst was an amazing read. If you’re looking for a YA inspired Underbelly read situated in 1930s Sydney, then this is definitely the book for you. Even if you’re not into these types of stories, do give it a go. I was never a fan either, but Razorhurst has me yearning for more!
Thank you to Allen & Unwin Australia for providing me with an ARC in exchange for an honest review.