Ruthless, devious, and loyal, Zenka is a Hungarian pole-dancer with a dark past.
When cranky London mob boss, Jack Murray, saves her life she vows to become his guardian angel – whether he likes it or not. Happily, she now has easy access to pistols, knives and shotguns.
Jack discovers he has a son, Nicholas, a male nurse with a heart of gold. Problem is, Nicholas is a wimp.
Zenka takes charge. Using her feminine wiles and gangland contacts, she will turn Nicholas into the son any self-respecting crime boss would be proud of. And she succeeds!
Nicholas is learning fast that sometimes you have to kill, or be killed.
As his life becomes more terrifying, questions have to be asked:
How do you tell a mob boss you don’t want to be his son?
And is Zenka really who she says she is?
Firstly I need to wish Alison Brodie a very happy publication day, Zenka is out today as a Kindle eBook! Thank you for the invitation to review Zenka and for the advance copy of the book.
When Alison first contacted me she wasn't sure if black comedies were the sort of thing I enjoy which just goes to show I don't read nearly enough of them because when I do, I invariably love them. Zenka proved to be no exception and I was hooked from the very start.
I absolutely loved the premise of Zenka; when mob boss, Jack Murray discovers he has a long lost son, Nicholas he is desperate to make up for lost time but he wants to make sure his enemies are out of the way before he makes contact. In the meantime he follows Nicholas but is dismayed to learn his son is hardly a chip off the old block - he's a community nurse described as an angel by his patients but pushed around by his girlfriend and his flatmate, and is unable to stand up for himself in confrontations. He decides he needs to tempt Nicholas over to the dark side,
"That's what the Jag's all about. A few tasty gifts and he'll appreciate that Daddy might not be Snow White but who gives a flying-"
Jack is aided and abetted by the eponymous star of the book, Zenka. She works for him as a pole dancer after he rescues he from a dangerous gang of Romanian criminals. Zenka's temper is as heated as her fire-breathing act, she has declared herself Jack's guardian angel but that doesn't make her subservient to him. Although they share the same sense of humour they also argue, bloodshed is probably only avoided because in their fury she reverts to her native Hungarian and Jack into Cockney, meaning they can't understand one another. She agrees to help Jack turn Nicholas into the sort of son a mob boss can be proud of but events soon spiral out of control and before long confusion reigns. With some of Jack's gang members conspiring against him, and Nicholas browbeaten into submission by his dreadful girlfriend and annoying flatmate, can Jack and Nicholas ever form a relationship?
I loved everything about this book, the black humour - which ranges from the droll to Fawlty-esque levels of slapstick - never jars with the world of organised crime and the subplot involving a daring heist is genuinely gripping. Zenka is a wonderful character, most of the laughs in the book come from her, often from the letters interspersed throughout the book where she writes to her friend and plots ever more violent methods of killing Olga, the woman who sold her to the Romanians. Despite her fiendish plans, which range from shooting her to suffocation to knuckledusters and much more, she never forgets to enquire after Alina's family, although usually as an afterthought following her murderous plots. Jack may be a villain but as we learn more about his past - and see his obvious delight at finding out he has a son coupled with the lengths he is prepared to go to impress him - he becomes a far more sympathetic character than he perhaps appears initially. Meanwhile Nicholas might struggle to stand up for himself but as chaos ensues he discovers a side to himself he never knew existed, the increasingly bizarre and dangerous situations he finds himself in a far cry from his usual, rather mundane existence. The supporting characters are all fabulous too, particularly Trevor, Jack's oldest friend and accountant who is feeling hurt and resentful by what he sees as Jack's increasingly dismissive attitude towards him and who really misses his friend. He longs for love but is too shy to approach women so lives alone with just his cat, Bentley for company. The other gang members may have smaller roles to play but they are all well rounded characters from the usually taciturn Vincent, delighted to be spending three days at Christmas with his young son after being refused custody following a stint in prison, to the unpredictable and violent Lloyd, up to now the closest thing Jack has had to a son, how will he react to Nicholas usurping him? There's a scene between Lloyd, Nicholas and his flatmate, Jason which is possibly the funniest moment in the book despite involving a corpse. I was reduced to tears of laughter, especially when it came to what must surely be the most unique Christmas card ever!
With it's fast paced plot and witty dialogue, Zenka is a genuinely compelling thriller, with some surprising twists and for all the laughs, there is a real sense of violence and danger throughout. However, it also has a lovely feelgood factor to it; with its denouement set at Christmas I'd heartily recommend it to anybody looking for a book that is a bit darker than many of the seasonal reads but which is still packed with humour and warmth.
Zenka is available now in the UK and USA.
About the Author
Alison Brodie is a Scot with French Huguenot ancestors on her mother’s side: she has lived all over the world, including Kansas City, Athens and Basque country. Her first novel, Face to Face, was published by Hodder & Stoughton and became Good Housekeeping’s Pick of the Paperbacks: it was translated into German and Dutch, plus serialised in Sweden. Alison has now gone Indie: Brake Failure has 28 five-star reviews from professional book bloggers, and the Midwest Book Review called it a “masterpiece of humor”. Zenka is released on 6 November, 2017.