“The Singer” Cathi Unsworth (Serpents Tail) – novel review


Vince Smith has all the qualities a vocalist needs: charisma, the ability to inspire undying loyalty, an undercurrent of menace and an appetite for destruction.  He meets guitarist Steve and bassist Lynton at a Sex Pistols gig and, with drummer Kevin, they form Blood Truth in 1981.

 Twenty years later, music journalist Eddie Bracknell, is introduced to Blood Truth by a photographer who suggests there’s a book in the band’s story.  Eddie turns detective, hoping to uncover the mystery behind Vince Smith’s disappearance in Paris all those years ago.


So do the readers.  Each chapter alternates between Blood Truth and Eddie’s detective work.  Unsurprisingly, Cathi Unsworth, a former music journalist herself, writes very well about the punk music scene, the boredom of being on tour, the love/hate relationship with fans and hangers-on and the frictions as a band is under pressure to create the next album.  She’s also good with characters.


Blood Truth’s history is intertwined with Mood Violet, formed when two fashion students meet two musicians at a Damned gig and Allie’s electronic wizardry is fleshed out by Richard’s guitar and complemented by Sylvana’s delicate vocals.  Richard is intensely jealous of any man approaching Sylvana and controls her through violence.  Ironically this gives Sylvana a reputation as an ice maiden and she is eventually blamed for breaking up Blood Truth.  As Allie agrees to an interview with Eddie, he gets to hear Sylvana’s side of the story, a tragedy ending in apparent suicide.  She flees one violent man and ends up in the arms of another.


The denouement disappoints.  Vince Smith remains an enigma.  Perhaps that’s the point.  However, readers don’t get his side of the story even though he casts an elongated shadow, as if caused by a sunset, over all the other characters.  Readers get their stories without Vince’s motivations.  But a discarded lover has a surprise: a son put up for adoption is now adult and a vocalist signed to Blood Truth’s old label.  Vince Smith is big enough for two books.  Even if the arrival disappoints, the travel was worth the journey.


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