TO TELL THE TRUTH by Anna Smith (Book Review)

After reading Lin Anderson’s Easy Kill, where the easy prey are Glasgow’s multitudinous but totally unprotected prostitutes (unprotected in comparison with those of say Amsterdam or Paris) I slipped easily into Anna Smith’s The Dead Won’t Sleep. This was familiar territory. But this first book in the series is no “who-dun-it”. When the body of a fourteen-year-old prostitute and drug-addict named Tracy is washed up on the river shore, we already know who did it: a trio of corrupt and brutal senior police officers. The drama lies in the fight to the death – literally – between them and investigative journalist Rosie Gilmour, who is determined not to let Tracy’s death be covered up by the establishment.

Or the subsequent death of another prostitute, the only witness.

But it is in the sequel, To Tell the Truth, that Anna Smith really outdoes herself.

This time the setting is the Costa del Sol. I don’t know Glasgow, but I did know the south of Spain very well once upon a time, so here I really was back on familiar territory, except that now the whole place is seemingly owned and run by crime bosses from Russia and Albania. Along with one leering bastard from Glasgow, an old enemy of Rosie’s who had to leave the UK in a hurry after Rosie flashed his face on the front page of her newspaper.

In this book, believe me, no holds are barred.

The older man groaned as he spilled himself into the mouth of the teenage boy, who looked up with smiling eyes as he swallowed. He ruffled the young Moroccan’s thick wavy locks. ‘Taha. You are the sweetest boy,’ he said. Taha stood up, his naked brown body glistening in the sunlight. Then they heard the screaming.

A little girl, the daughter of two ‘Brits’ on holiday, has been kidnapped, just picked up and carried away while playing on the beach.

And the “older man” being given a blow-job by a Moroccan rent-boy on a balcony overlooking the beach at the time of the kidnapping was (why am I not surprised?) the British Home Secretary. His first concern, naturally, is to get well clear of the area before the police arrive and start questioning people. And if the boy, who might have been a witness, should turn out to be an embarrassment then his disappearance can be arranged by the billionaire on whose gigantic yacht the Rt Hon Home Sec is a guest, a Russian oligarch whose manifold business interests include trafficking girls in from eastern Europe for the straight sex trade and small children for the paedophile industry.

What we have playing out here in this story is the old vir and puer. For those of you without Latin, vir is “man” (but a real man) and puer is “boy” (though a slave would never be considered a vir; he would be called puer, “boy”, throughout his life) and you will find these words in English as the roots of ‘virile’ (manly, assertively male) and ‘puerile’ (boyish, childish, pathetic). Having his way with a boy makes an insecure but normally straight man feel manly. (And when I say “boy” I do not mean necessarily below the age of consent, I mean, as in the good old days, one who is totally at the man’s beck and call.) Very often these feelings of insecurity come from the man having to play the boy to real alpha males (be at their beck and call), which is exactly what happens here. In his own little world, the Rt Hon Home Sec is of course the master, but he knows all too well that his little world could come tumbling down at a snap of his master’s fingers. In his case the Russian oligarch whose arse he figuratively licks.

Interestingly, if the dominant figure in a straight man’s life is a woman this is likely to lead to him wanting to prove how manly he is not with a boy but with either underage girls or “working-girls” at the lower, more desperate, end of the sex-worker scale, using them and treating them with total contempt, just as happens in the case of boys in the hands of straight men. An adult form of bullying.

An interesting example of this might be the second sons in royal families. The Queen in the UK does not have total control over Prince Charles or Prince William: they are their own men, their positions assured as the direct heirs to the throne. However, she does have total control over the younger brothers, who have to shut up and behave themselves. They might react, as it seems Prince Andrew may possibly have done, by taking out his frustrations and anger on teenage girls (the Epstein scandal), or they might be saved, as it seems Prince Harry may have been, by another dominant woman who severs the threads by which the aging matriarch formerly held and controlled him.

But to return to the book (with due apologies to all and sundry) let’s just say that here, in this marvellous story. the super alpha+ male who, like God, has no master (even Putin kowtows to these oligarchs apparently) comes up against a thread-severer in Rosie Gilmour who literally does not know when (or how) to stop.

Compulsive reading. Perhaps the most impossible book to put down and go to bed that I have ever come across.