This book has become the latest one that keeps invading my thoughts, earning it a place in my hinterland. The novel by Stevan Alcock is an excellent evocation of a time, but not a place, that I remember well. The setting is Leeds in the late 70s when the city and part of the region was tense because of a killer who attacked women, some of whom were sex workers. The ‘Yorkshire Ripper’, as he was labelled by the media dominated news for much of the period. This was national news so think what it must have been like for the people who lived in the Yorkshire city of Leeds.
Stevan Alcock uses the time and place well to tell his story of a young man, Rick, who works for the Corona soft drinks company. I remember when they had deliveries just like the milk deliveries of old. He is the junior partner to Eric who uses his round for quick visits to friendly women, some of whom earn their money by selling their bodies. Rick, though, is gay and not at all ashamed of the fact. This is no angst filled story of coming out. Rick is well aware of his sexuality and sees no need to change it. This doesn’t make him open about it though and he negotiates the Leeds scene in a way that does not bring attention to himself.
Rick seeks out the gay support group and finds friendly bars to drink in, all the while keeping his life private from both his work mates and his family. There are secrets enough to go around in any case among his wider family of mum, sister, step-dad and grandma. As the story progresses, parts of the family history come to light and Rick tries to make sense of where he fits in. All the while, the Ripper is at work. Reading this book reminded me that it was a five year period before he was caught. Looking back, it is compressed as one news story when in fact it dominated headlines over a long time.
The 70s was a time of casual as well as overt racism. The National Front enters this story and is accepted as part of the background scene. There is also the misogyny that was prevalent. Rick negotiates this as he finds a way of fitting in as a young gay man.
Some secrets are not so much secrets as the unspoken. As he grows up, or hero realises this and learns who he can and can’t trust. The ending of the story is a beginning of sorts; maybe there is space for a sequel or maybe Rick’s future is the one the reader would hope for him.
‘Blood Relatives’ is in my hinterland. What’s in yours?