‘I love Camden – but with million-pound houses, who can afford to live here?'

Peter Gruner talks to author AK Turner about her latest Cassie Raven book, set in a less than salubrious Camden Town

Thursday, 21st July — By Peter Gruner

AK Turner

AK Turner, author of Life Sentence

THERE’S an unusual amateur sleuth walking the streets of Camden who dresses as a Goth and works for a local mortuary.

Her name is Cassie Raven and she’s never fazed by scenes of the dead until she’s shown graphic photos of her own mother’s lifeless body.

So begins a fascinating and highly praised murder mystery, featuring Cassie, in the novel Life Sentence by AK Turner.

In an interview with Review, Turner, who lives in east London, said she studied many back issues of the CNJ for background before writing.

She added: “I love Camden. I come up a lot to get the vibe. But with million-pound houses who can afford to live here? Cassie, paid by the NHS, lives with her granny in a hard-to-let council flat in Camden.

“Sadly, like so many families with roots in the area, they are in danger of being priced out.”

In her job Cassie, 25, is tender and respectful towards the dead but she also genuinely cares about the plight of the living.

So much so that she takes out her facial piercings before a family viewing and rearranges her black-dyed hair to cover her shaved undercut.

What’s more, she even occasionally breaks the rules of the mortuary. Like the time she stayed overnight with a drowned nine-year-old boy because his mum had told her he was afraid of the dark.

However, Cassie is living under a cloud. She was just four when her mother Katherine was apparently murdered by her father Callum. And now she discovers that dad is being finally released from prison after serving 17 years of a life sentence.

Both her parents were heavily into rock music in their happy days. Her dad played guitar for an Irish folk rock band while mum worked on the high street in a local vinyl record store called Honest Bob.

Cassie was told that her dad was a heavy drinker who was accused of beating her mother to death after getting it into his head that she had been having an affair. Callum, however, has always argued his innocence.

When Cassie finally meets up with him, he denies that he ever touched his beloved wife.

Cassie, who hardly remembers her mum, lives with her Polish granny Weronika, on her mother’s side, who makes life easier by being an amazing cook. For Sunday lunch she serves up Polish rolmopsy, (pickled herring), miseria (cucumber salad) followed by delicious kremowka (cream cake).

The author was married to a Polish man for more than 20 years before they went their separate ways.

It is Weronika who recognises her granddaughter’s unusual interest in the human body at age 11 and buys her a copy of Gray’s Anatomy.

Although Cassie would like her own place to live, not surprisingly, she can’t afford to buy even the tiniest bedsit in Camden and the price of renting is shooting up. She drops into the area’s grimiest lettings agency, where they give her details of a property she and her boyfriend Kieran might just afford: a flat with a box room above a Chinese takeaway.

What Cassie doesn’t want is to be exiled from the Camden that she adores, to some “God-awful suburb.”

She’s appalled when she meets her dad, who is staying in a cheap B&B in Kentish Town.

Turner writes that Callum’s denim jacket is hanging off his emaciated frame, “his chain-store jeans baggy on broomstick-thin thighs, and the sharp jawline of the wedding photo had gone”.

Although still not convinced of her dad’s innocence, Cassie begins investigating her mother’s death. She obtains the help of local woman cop Detective Sergeant Phyllida Flyte.

Reluctant at first, DS Flyte sympathises with Cassie as she too has faced bereavement with the loss of her stillborn baby, Poppy.

DS Flyte digs up old photos of Cassie’s dead mother but warns her to think carefully whether she ought to look at them. Cassie tells herself that she’s seen dozens of murder victims over the years. She could handle it. She pulls the photos out of an envelope.

Turner writes: “Seconds later she was arched over the sink puking up beer, vodka and a bag of peanuts that had passed for dinner.”

The novel reminds readers of the days when the borough was full of closed-down pubs, semi derelict offices, and light industrial units all waiting to be squatted.

Turner is a qualified City of London Walks Guide with a passion for history. Among her favourites sites are St Bartholomew The Great church and the gardens of St Dunstan in the East.

This is her second book featuring Cassie Raven. The first, Body Language, was published in 2020. A third, called Case Sensitive, is being planned for next year.

Life Sentence. By AK Turner, Zaffre, £8.99

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