Socialist crime novels are perhaps not a genre that comes obviously to mind, either for those who read crime fiction or fans of the socialist novel. Yet a genre it is.
The Belgian revolutionary Ernest Mandel was a lifelong enthusiast, writing a Marxist analysis of crime books. Pluto Press published a left-wing crime series including Nigel Fountain’s Days Like These, about the fight against fascism in north-east London in the 1970s, which remains a classic. From a feminist perspective Virago also have a significant list of crime fiction.
Phil Brett’s Their Blood-Soaked Liberty is the latest in his series of novels where the central figure – ‘heroes’ not really working for the left – is Pete Kalder. Kalder is a veteran socialist who has stumbled into detective work.
Brett’s book is not just a whodunit but also science fiction. It’s set in a future Britain where after a prolonged struggle a workers’ Government is in power. It is run by a broad alliance of socialist and anarchist groups and the storyline looks at attempts by the enemies of the fledging workers’ state to undermine and destroy it
We find Kalder rescuing works of art from millionaire collectors who have fled the revolution, and putting them on public display. However he is seconded to become the political lead for the CRIB, a sort of socialist Special Branch consisting of a few police officers who have come over to the side of the revolution and some tech wizards.
The book starts with the murder of an anarchist, Mike Stewart, who has been busy designing new people-focused townscapes. Its clear that his death is designed to stir tensions between the factions in the workers Government, but who did it, why and what else might they be planning?
Brett pursues the storyline through fast-paced chapters where there is no shortage of dramatic events to keep the reader hooked. We find The Shard as a sort of HQ for libertarians and anarchists, but on the other side of the Thames Alexandra Palace has been turned into a museum of the revolution.
A knowledge of the geography and politics of north-east London, where much of the action takes place, is not essential to read and enjoy the book, but for those who are familiar it adds an extra dimension.
There are other elements to the storyline which add perspective and interest. Brett looks at some of the structures that the new workers’ state has put in place, including community councils to run local neighbourhoods, William Morris style. There are workers’ tokens for money and workplace relations are of course significantly changed.
The book also has a high level of tech surveillance, used for investigation and monitoring but now in the interests of the people. It’s not specified quite how far into the future the book is set, but as a long serving trade union officer in telecoms I did find myself wondering whether a lot of the tech would actually work as brilliantly as it does in the book!
Brett and the CRIB relentlessly pursue the enemies of the new workers’ state. Obviously a review of a whodunit novel can’t reveal who it was – you should read the book to find out!
Suffice to say that Kalder and his comrades have some success in tackling the counter-revolution but by the end of the book it’s clear that the struggle to defend the workers’ state will have to go on.
Brett has written a highly readable volume of crime fiction that should be on the shelf or e-reader of socialists in the current day. It’s the third in Brett’s series of Pete Kalder crime novels. The first two books are reviewed on this website, here and here.
Their Blood-Soaked Liberty by Phil Brett, is available here.
Phil Brett is a primary school teacher, who has written two novels (Comrades Come Rally and Gone Underground) set in a revolutionary Britain of the near future. In between planning lessons and marking, he is writing the third.
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