Book Review: Sirens

Joseph Knox’s debut Sirens is a book  I think everybody should be reading. Unless you are a person who values sleep above all else. If you’re that person then maybe this book isn’t for you because I am telling you now: you will not be able to put it down. You won’t. Actually, even if you are that person, read this book. You’ll be immersed but just trust me on this: sleep is so totally overrated anyhow. I was hooked, and not just because it’s set in Manchester and so has that air of familiarity about it. I do so like a book that’s set in my sort-of neck of the woods. I like when I recognise places and names and landmarks.

I do not like when I am driving through Manchester late at night, with this book not quite finished and as such at the forefront of my mind and the road is closed and I am sent on a diversion through dark and dingy back streets that look like they could have stepped right off the pages of this book with Beetham Tower all imposing in the background and I am slightly freaked out. Not at all. Although it’s a testament maybe to how good this book is, that it got under my skin and lingered there; that even when I wasn’t curled up reading it, I couldn’t leave it alone.

It’s about a disgraced detective working undercover in Manchester’s seedy drug underworld which gets all the high fives from me because I do so love a book that’s a break from the usual formula; I like that Aiden is a sort of anti-hero. That he doesn’t tick the usual detective novel boxes. It’s not so much Aiden’s story that makes this book so special though. It’s the way it’s told. The writing. Oh God, the writing.

The writing is as atmospheric as anything I’ve read in a while, and kind of beautiful too: Knox is good at words, he’s good at making them jump off the page and come to life in front of you, at making you see and hear and feel. Evocative. That’s what his writing is, really really evocative. The setting, the story, the people. All of it, it’s so intriguing.  It never lets up either this book, never lags and it stays with you too: I felt unsettled for a while after I’d finished it and I love that . I mean, sure I read for escapism but I also kind of read to experience you know? To get under the skin of a story; to get under the skin of myself. I like a book that makes me think, that has me still thinking even after I’m done reading it. I feel linked to the characters somehow, that’s how much it’s gotten under my skin, like I lived this story, like it’s real and these things happened and these people are real and I don’t know. I don’t know how to explain. It made me feel all the things I guess, in a way that I was not entirely prepared for.

This is not just a whodunit. This is a powerful story about of politics and corruption, of suffering and hitting rock bottom and wondering how the hell you’ll ever claw your way back up. It’s about trying to escape only to find yourself burrowing ever deeper and it’s about the sometimes self-destructiveness of human nature. It unfolds slowly and cleverly, intense and dark and incredibly detailed. And you should read it.