London, Burning by Anthony Quinn review – portrait of a divided country

London, Burning by Anthony Quinn review – portrait of a divided country

The Guardian

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Four strangers are united by the tensions of late 70s Britain in the latest of Quinn’s gratifying London novels

Set during the dog days of the Callaghan Labour government, Anthony Quinn’s latest period novel extends his richly pleasurable and loosely connected series portraying London down the decades. Since 2011, he has fused romance, mystery and social realism to produce a kind of epic Londoniad, tackling the city’s Victorian slums (The Streets), the first world war (Half of the Human Race), the 30s (Curtain Call), the blitz (Our Friends in Berlin), the 50s and 60s (Freya and Eureka), and now the late 70s, a time of strikes, IRA violence and the imminent election of Margaret Thatcher.

It’s David Peace territory, but Quinn is a steadier, suaver writer, relying on the old-school charms of rounded characters and a clockwork plot. Involving police corruption and showbiz hanky-panky, London, Burning brings together four strangers: Hannah, a go-getting reporter; Vicky, a newly promoted detective; Callum, an English lecturer from County Down; and Freddie, a married theatre director sleeping with a television star angling for the lead role in his new show. At the centre of it all is Thatcher’s shadow home secretary, Anthony Middleton, an ex-spy and former POW vowing to crush the unions and the IRA alike. A fictional version of Airey Neave, he also dies in a car bomb, but Quinn’s aim isn’t to recreate one of the IRA’s most notorious murders so much as use it as a catalyst for events that pull together his central quartet. A kneejerk arrest fuelled by anti-Irish bigotry is only the start, as the killing inspires a network of crooked cops running a drugs racket.

As well as taking a trip down memory lane, Quinn wants to explore how Labour voters were blindsided by Thatcher’s rise

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