New Worker Banner

The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain

On the streets of Southampton

Reviewed by Ben Soton

The Madam The Madam by Jaime Raven; Avon Harper Collins 2016. Paperback: 336pp; RRP £7.99.

A YOUNG woman, Lizzie Wells is imprisoned for a crime she did not commit. Whilst she’s in prison her son dies from meningitis. On her release she is determined to expose those who framed her. This is a story of an underworld, prostitution, crooked businessmen and bent coppers. It is also the story of a city – my city – Southampton.

The author, Jaime Raven, who is from south London, describes Southampton as an ethnically diverse city, full of gobby women, where the local accent is a mixture of West Country and Cockney. A broadly accurate description. The names of some of the pubs and restaurants have been changed: the local newspaper is referred to as the Post, the correct name being Echo. The Titanic pub in Bugle Street is real.

Wells is released from prison after serving three years for manslaughter; one night whilst working as a prostitute she wakes up next to a dead punter covered in blood, with a knife in her hand. The punter in question is a journalist working on a story about a businessman and his links to prostitution, whose empire is kept afloat by corrupt police officers. Along with her lesbian lover Donna, whom she met in jail, she plans to expose this. One might consider this a bit over ambitious, but Wells is spurred on by a desire for justice and blames those who put her behind bars for the death of her son.

I have previously argued that crime novels have a left-wing slant, even if unintentional, because they expose many of society’s injustices. The Madam conforms to this view. It tells the story of a young woman, whose father died at a young age, and as a result of poverty turns to prostitution.

The Madam shines a light on the underworld that exists in most, if not all, British cities. Namely the links between so-called respectable businessmen, who own the restaurants and night clubs that some of us patronise, to the underworld of prostitution, drugs and protection rackets. This is a world that, although real, many of us remain oblivious to.

During the novel Wells follows a businessman home in the well-heeled suburb of Chilworth – an area popular with Southampton footballers and their wives, with mock-Tudor mansions, crew-cut hedges and swimming pools. If you ever walk or drive through such an area, maybe stop to wonder how some of the owners acquired their wealth. Equally, whenever you hear a police or ambulance siren remember there is a story behind it. Anything that shines a light on this is worth reading.