Book review: The Family by Martina Cole

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When Christine Booth marries into the Murphy family, she vows it will be for better or worse.

But life with this dangerous and volatile East End clan turns out to be ‘worse’ than she could ever have imagined and will lead her to make decisions that would once have been unthinkable.

Yes, the fiction world’s ‘bad girl’ Martina Cole is back – with a vengeance – and the queen of the criminal underworld has hit bullseye with this hard-hitting, page-turning, in-your-face thriller.

Violent, shocking and sizzling with suspense, The Family is one of those punchy, powerful stories that this top British author does best.

The Murphys are a dangerous crowd - none more so than top dog Phil, an emotionally stunted 21-year-old man full of simmering violence and the rare ability to hurt other people without a second thought.

When he falls for the innocent charms of 15-year-old schoolgirl Christine, it is difficult for her to resist the good looks and vitality of his Irish stock.

She is the ‘saintly’ figure of womanhood that appeals to his Roman Catholic upbringing while Christine, who has always felt uncomfortable in her own home, is bowled over by a man who makes her feel like the only girl on earth.

It’s only a matter of time before she packs her bags and moves in with the Murphys where being part of a family synonymous with villainy lends her a certain cachet.

Her horrified parents are soon won over when their shop, normally plagued by yobs and low life, is suddenly both trouble-free and lucrative.

But Phil Murphy’s ‘love’ for Christine is an unnatural obsession...it’s an illness, a cancer that is eating away at him, a desire for her so intense and so all-consuming that he would happily kill to keep her beside him.

Christine’s one moment of foreboding comes when she discovers that Murphy has deliberately made her pregnant. At 16, her independence has been wiped out and she faces the future with a man whose desire for her could overpower everything she ever wanted.

Several years and two sons later, the truth of her self-willed and blinkered existence comes knocking at the door of her luxury home.

It’s a rude awakening for Christine who now shelters behind anti-depressants and alcohol to ward off the harsh reality that once you join the ruthless Murphys, you’re with them for life.

It’s only when her precious sons grow up and become entangled in their father’s dirty dealings that Christine finds the strength to take matters into her own hands.

Terrifying and brutal, The Family gathers you up in a whirlwind of fast-paced action and nail-biting menace, while the unexpected landing is sure to take your breath away.

Everything we ever wanted from a Martina Cole novel.

(Headline, paperback, £7.99)